Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Oh, patents! Nao’s sibling (Romeo)

Copyright © Françoise Herrmann

Nao’s youngest and largest sibling is Romeo, a humanoid robot designed as a companion for the elderly. Thus, Romeo is being developed with both specific automated physical capacities and artificial intelligence for cognitive assistance and communication with an elderly population. The robot’s cognitive assistance module includes, for example, breakfast, lunch, nap and dinner routines, and reminders to drink fluids. The conversation module, for example, enables patients to query the robot for time of day, date and the latest news, or for certain tasks, such as “turn on the lights”, “show me a movie”, “answer the phone”, “bring me my glasses”, “follow me”, “let’s exercise:”, “hold this”, “empty the dishwasher”, plus much more, since this is a connected robot, whose functionalities are, in principle, indefinitely expandable with new apps, new extensions, and upgrades. 

Indeed, the Romeo platform was actually tested with a consortium of 16 top industrial and academic robotics research partners, such as the CNRS (France’s National Center for Scientific Research) and INRIA (France’s Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation), for more than 4 years. This mega-collaboration has given rise to many patented inventions, some of which inform the design of  Nao second-generation robots and the design of Pepper, or alternatively, some of which were tested on Nao before becoming available on Romeo. Such R&D research projects have, for example, focused on hand and wrist operation, gestures to enhance communication, enhanced visual recognition or coordination of visual recognition with gestures in communication, robot safety, and collision avoidance. The following video shows just one such R&D project, focused on Romeo pouring a glass of water, while still tethered to a computer workbench.

The below-listed patent family, related to safe use of a humanoid robot, discloses one of the important inventions, connected to the Romeo project. This is an invention that addresses the issue of preventing damage to surroundings, in case the robot falls, and loses control of its movements. In fact, this invention, titled Safety of a humanoid-type robot in US2017072560discloses an emergency stop button. 

The emergency stop button is triggered when a certain force is exerted that exceeds a given threshold, for example, in case of impact, or if the robot falls, for one reason or another. The button can also be actuated by an operator who wants to take the robot out of service because of some observed malfunction. Otherwise, the force exerted that exceeds a given threshold is preferably exerted by the robot’s movements, and in particular, the robot's head on its trunk, as shown in the appended patent Figure 4, below.

The following is a list of the patents belonging to the patent family disclosing the emergency stop button for the purpose of safely using humanoid robots. The abstract for the US member of the patent family is also included below with Figure 4 of the patent showing the robot's head actuating the switch on the robot's trunk. 
A humanoid-type robot comprises two elements and an articulation with at least one degree of freedom linking the two elements, the articulation allowing a travel in a given range in operational operation, a first of the two elements being intended to come into contact with an abutment belonging to a second of the two elements at the end of the range. According to the invention, the robot further comprises at least one switch. The switch is configured to actuate an electrical contact when a force exerted by the first element against the abutment exceeds a given force. [Abstract US2017072560]
  • US2017072560 (A1) ― 2017-03-16 - Safety of a humanoid-type robot
  • AU2015270476 (A1) ― 2016-12-01 - Safety of a humanoid-type robot 
  • CA2950660 (A1) ― 2015-12-10 - Safety of a humanoid-type robot
  • EP3152008 (A1) ― 2017-04-12 - Safety of a humanoid-type robot
  • FR3021572 (A1) ― 2015-12-04 - Sécurité d'un robot à caractère humanoïde
  • JP2017516671 (A) ― 2017-06-22 - ヒューマノイド型ロボットの安全性
  • KR20170021800 (A) ― 2017-02-28 - Safety of a humanoid-type robot
  • MX2016015822 (A) ― 2017-06-28 - Safety of a humanoid-type robot
  • NZ726224 (A) ― 2017-09-29 - Safety of a humanoid-type robot  
  • SG11201609420R (A) ― 2016-12-29 - Safety of a humanoid-type robot
  • WO2015185670 (A1) ― 2015-12-10 - Safety of a humanoid-type robot 
Softbank Robotics
Softbank Robotics - Nao
Softbank robotics - Pepper
Sofbank Robotics - Romeo

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