Watch A Humanoid Chauffeur Driving Everyone Towards A Robotaxi Future

Japanese researchers have reported a groundbreaking experiment in which a humanoid robot named Musashi operates an electric microcar.

In order to properly navigate urban environments, autonomous vehicle development typically significantly relies on complex technology, such as LiDAR, vision cameras, GPS, and complex control algorithms. Although this strategy has produced both noteworthy achievements and failures, University of Tokyo researchers are looking into an alternative course: perhaps in the future, cars won’t need to be equipped with such cutting-edge technologies in order to operate independently.

Musashi, a “musculoskeletal humanoid,” was created by the University of Tokyo’s Jouhou System Kougaku Lab in 2019. Designed to mimic human proportions and movements, Musashi features a “joint and muscle structure” inspired by the human body. Recently, Musashi has been utilized in an autonomous driving project, learning to drive in a manner akin to human drivers, with varying degrees of success.

Equipped with high-resolution cameras in each of its movable eyes, Musashi can adjust its gaze to obtain different perspectives, such as looking straight ahead or checking side mirrors. Its five-digit hands, at the end of jointed arms, are capable of steering, pulling the handbrake, turning the ignition key, and operating turn signals. The robot’s feet are also functional, pressing the brake and accelerator pedals as necessary.

For this project, Musashi is seated in a business variant of the COMS micro-EV (Chotto Odekake Machimade Suisui), a single-seater electric car introduced by Toyota in 2012. The team outfitted the vehicle with a Wi-Fi router and an Intel NUC PC to run the recognition module, alongside a servo power supply, although future iterations of humanoids might incorporate these features internally.

The real-world driving tests were conducted at the University of Tokyo’s Kashiwa Campus. During these tests, Musashi demonstrated the ability to brake when detecting a human or hearing a car horn and responded appropriately to traffic lights. However, the robot struggled with inclines and required an unusually long time to navigate corners, indicating the early stages of development in this autonomous driving approach.

Despite these challenges, the potential advantages of using humanoid robots like Musashi for autonomous driving are promising. This method could negate the need for extensive vehicle modifications and allow the robot driver to perform additional tasks between trips, such as carrying groceries or assisting in household chores. Furthermore, the sensor-equipped robot could double as a crash test dummy, providing valuable data for automakers.

A detailed paper on this project was first presented at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) in 2021 and is now accessible on arXiv.

Sources: JSKKento Kawaharazuka

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