According to a CNET.com article, Yaskawa and Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) have now co-developed Mahoro, the latest droid in the humanoid robotics project (HRP) series.
Previous models in the series have been designed to assist humans in a variety of ways, but Mahoro is something new altogether. Although he may look like a six-jointed automotive factory worker, the new robot would be capable of much more complex tasks. Mahoro’s seven joints allow him to move as freely as his humanoid creators— the extra joint mimicking human elbow movements—in order to conduct lab work with superhuman speed and precision.
DigInfo TV coverage tells us Mahoro is capable of performing hazardous lab work that previously had to be done manually. When pitted against seasoned lab technicians, Mahoro was able to perform lab work more precisely and in half the time. Rather than replacing lab technicians, the company aims at providing a safer alternative for hazardous testing procedures that use components hazardous to humans, such as radioactive materials or the flu virus. The team of scientists noted that the time require to develop the robots required setting a high standard for the work accomplished by the machines.
“We’ve tried various robot systems. But if we build special-purpose robots, when we modify trial procedures or switch to different projects, those robots become useless. Also, developing robots is very time-consuming. So, we wanted to develop a robot that can do what people do, using the same tools people use. That’s why we’ve developed Mahoro,” say scientists.
AIST’s Tohru Natsume says Mahoro “can work on things like flu testing as well as handle biohazards, keeping human technicians out of harms way.” Mr. Natsume says that rather than wasting time and resources building a new special purpose robot— for instance, a robot designed solely for dealing with radioactive material in a particular trial—that would soon become useless once the procedure or project changed, the new robot was designed with adaptability in mind. This makes Mahoro notable not only for his abilities, but also for his flexibility.
“For example, to develop influenza drugs, we do infection trials every day, using virulent strains of influenza,” the developers noted in a statement. “This work is very hazardous, so it should be done by robots. We also have to do lots of tests with radioactive materials. Those should also be done by robots.”
The applications for Mahoro’s skill set don’t stop at basic lab work. Rather than using complex programming, this fascinating robot can be taught to perform other complicated tasks and procedures using a “virtual lab bench created with CAD (computer aided design) software.” Mr. Natsume noted that the droid’s system also allows its programmer to set up various arrangements of Mahoro’s tools, allowing for maximum speed and efficiency.
Sold by Nikkyo Technos, Mahoro is already being used by universities and pharmaceutical companies. Cnet cites AIST’s recent demonstration of Mahoro’s capabilities at the Interphex trade show in Tokyo. According to both DigInfo TV and Cnet, AIST wants to develop the safety of the robot so that it can work alongside human technicians in the lab. Perhaps in the future, Mahoro or the model that comes after him will be the lab technician’s new best friend.