July 14, 2006 11:24 AM PDT

Robot backers turn to Linux

What the world needs now, according to a Japanese research group, is a low-cost programmable robot.

To spur more development of robots at the hobbyist level, Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) is promoting a humanoid creature named HRP-2m Choromet. One problem with current robots, AIST says, is that they tend to be little more than remote-controlled devices. Another is that getting beyond that evolutionary stage tends to take a lot of cash.

Choromet
The robot Choromet.
Credit: AIST

Choromet, which bears a striking resemblance to the Transformers character Optimus Prime, comes with programmable software that runs on Linux. It was developed by General Robotix, one of two start-ups working under AIST together with Pirkus Robotix and Dai Nippon Technical Research Institute. The controller, which is driven in real time by AIST's ArtLinux, was developed by Moving Eye, the other start-up in the group.

"This controller features some of the functions of the humanoid robot software platform OpenHRP, which has helped give the robot movements such as walking on two legs and getting up," AIST said in a statement.

The 14-inch-tall Choromet weighs about 3 pounds and uses inexpensive servo motors.

The combination of Linux and the servo motors, according to AIST, will help reduce the cost of creating robots for educational and research applications. The group did not disclose any specific pricing, however. A prototype of the robot first debuted in May at a Japanese mechanical-engineering symposium.

Interest is growing in making robot building more accessible to both academic researchers and the commercial market.

In June, Microsoft announced that it would be funding a new research lab at Carnegie Mellon University, a robotics hot spot. The company also launched Microsoft Robotics Studio, its first robotics software, and made the Windows-based development platform available for public preview.

Toy maker Lego has also been developing a programmable robot line called Mindstorms NXT, still in an open-source community-testing phase. The company has said it will release software, hardware and Bluetooth developer kits to the public in August.

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