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Campus Now

New Year Issue (Jan. 2014)


A happy future with people and robots

Waseda University strives to become the “international research university” which is advocated in the “Waseda Vision 150” which states the ideal from of our university upon reaching its 150th anniversary (2032). Every day, Waseda gives back to human society by broadly transmitting its research activities throughout the world.
In the field of humanoid robots, the WABOT Project was started in 1970 as research that spans different departments in the School of Science and Engineering. The WABOT Project boasts over 40 years of activity and continues to produce world-leading technology daily. This article reports the successes and issues of Waseda research and technology aimed at coexistence between people and robots.

History of robot research at Waseda

Robot research at Waseda was started in 1963 by Professor Ichiro Kato (deceased), who is known as the “father of world robotics development.”
The following is a timeline of humanoid robot research led by Waseda.

“WABOT-1,” the world’s first humanoid robot. WABOT-1 was capable of simple conversations with people. It used eyes to recognize objects and determine distance/direction. WABOT-1 was a biped robot that used tactile sensors on its hands to hold and manipulate objects. When compared to human beings, WABOT-1 possessed the ability of an 18-month-old child. WABOT-1 was a world-leading robot realized by cooperation across various departments and laboratories.

Start of “WABOT Project,” led by Professor Ichiro Kato (deceased)
Development of the world’s first full-scale humanoid robot “WABOT-1”
Sale of world’s first myoelectric robot prosthetic forearm “WIME Hand” by Imasen Electric Industrial (Aichi)
  • Development of keyboard instrument-playing robot “WABOT-2”
  • News release announcing realization of robot palpation by the “Breast Cancer Palpation Robot” which was jointly developed with the National Cancer Center from 1978
Development of “WHL11” biped walking robot by Hitachi, Ltd. Based on the “WL10,” the WHL11 was demonstrated at the Government Building of the 1985 Tsukuba Expo and travelled 60 kilometers during the term of the exposition.

At the opening ceremony of the Tsukuba Expo, a musician robot created based on WABOT-2 performed with the NHK Symphony Orchestra, Tokyo (Conductor: Yuzo Toyama)

The musician robot “WASUBOT” was exhibited at the 1985 Tsukuba Expo and performed for approximately 6 months, making a strong appeal for Japanese robotic technology to the world. WASUBOT was developed for the exposition by Sumitomo Electric Industries, Ltd. and was based on “WABOT-2.” At the opening ceremony, WASUBOT performed with the NHK Symphony Orchestra, Tokyo, using both hands and legs to play “Air on the G String” on an electronic organ.

Start of “Humanoid Project”
Human symbiotic robot “Hadaly-1”
Biped robot “WABIAN” capable of network connection
Human symbiotic robot “Hadaly-2”
Emotionally expressive humanoid “WE-3RII”
“WENDY,” a robot with flexible and articulate hands

“WABIAN,” a biped humanoid robot with arms and ability which can acquire visual/auditory information. The robot uses two arms to carry packages, performs variable-speed dances in rhythm with a conductor’s baton being waved by a person, and exchanges gestures with people.

The human symbiotic robot “Hadaly-2” emphasizes safety for coexistence with people. Capable of safe and flexible collaborative work with people.

Human symbiotic robot “WENDY” developed based on “Hadaly-2.” WENDY is equipped with human-mimetic fingertips, making it the first robot in the world to skillfully crack an egg.

Myoelectric controlled prosthetic “WH-1” (1964)

Rubber artificial muscle “WAP-1” (1969)

“WL-5” (1971)

“WAM-4” (1972)

“iSHA,” an autonomous communication robot developed to research the form of natural communication between people and robots (Hashimoto Laboratory)

“ROBISUKE,” a robot capable of conversation with multiple parties (Kobayashi Perceptual Computing Laboratory). Realizes human-like conversation by comprehending non-language information such as nodding, facial expressions and speech nuances.

  • Establishment of Humanoid Robotics Institute (HRI)
  • Establishment of WABOT-HOUSE Laboratory (Gifu Prefecture)
  • Autonomous communication robot “iSHA”
Humanoid flute-playing robot “WF-3RIX”
  • Start of 21st Century COE Program “The Innovative Research on Symbiosis Technologies for Human and Robots in the Elderly Dominated Society”
  • Opening of RoboCasa, a Japan-Italy joint laboratory within the Research Institute for Science and Engineering
  • “ROBISUKE,” a robot capable of holding natural conversations with people
  • Emotionally expressive humanoid “WE-3RII”
  • Start of Knowledge Cluster, a joint robotic research project with Gifu Prefecture
Development of multi-purpose biped robot by Takanishi Laboratory and tmsuk Co., Ltd.

Humanoid flute-playing robot “WF-3RIX” (Takanishi Laboratory)

Emotionally expressive humanoid “WE-3RII” (at left in photograph). Aims to realize smooth communication between people and robots by clarifying human perception/recognition functions from an engineering perspective. Shown at the right in the photograph is “WE-4RII,” developed in 2004 (Takanishi Laboratory).

WABOT-HOUSE Laboratory (Gifu Prefecture): A house where people and robots coexist

Upon entering the 21st century, Waseda’s robot research has grown into an even more interdisciplinary field. In 2001, “WABOT-HOUSE,” a house where people and robots coexist, was constructed in Gifu Prefecture through cooperation with construction and telecommunications laboratories. 2003 marked the start of “RoboCasa,” a laboratory jointly operated with an Italian graduate school, as well as the start of the COE Program “The Innovative Research on Symbiosis Technologies for Human and Robots in the Elderly Dominated Society.”

“WABIAN-II,” a biped robot developed as a human partner and as a simulator of human body movement (Takanishi Laboratory).
Click here for details.

  • Multipurpose mobile module “WL-16RIII”
  • Robot for supporting minimally invasive surgery
  • “TWENDY-ONE,” a robot for safe and reliable nursing care
  • “KOBIAN,” a biped robot which uses its entire body to express a variety of emotions
Establishment of the “Global Robot Academia” Research Center, selected for the MEXT’s Global COE Program

World’s most graceful robot dance

In 2008, at an event to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the School of Science and Engineering, the Waseda biped robot “WABIAN-2R” and the nursing care robot “TWENDY-ONE” mesmerized the audience with a graceful dance to traditional court music.

  • Establishment of RT (Robot Technology) Frontier
  • “SCHEMA,” a robot capable of communication with multiple people
Humanoid flute-playing robot “WF-4RV”
At an international medical welfare exhibition, the Ome Chamber of Commerce and Industry displayed a myoelectric controlled robot for suppressing essential tremors. The robot was developed through joint research by Kikuchi Seisakusho and Waseda University. The robot was also exhibited at the Yotec Expo and International Robot Exhibition.
  • Second model of “SCHEMA”
  • “Research Program for Human-Friendly Technology through Active Approach of Human Symbiotic Robots” was selected for the MEXT’s subsidy.
  • The MEXT selected “Embodiment Informatics” as the Program for Leading Graduate Schools.

“TWENDY-ONE,” a nursing care robot which emphasizes safety by using a high-level sensing system and full-body tactile function (Sugano Laboratory).
Click here for details.

“KOBIAN,” a biped robot which uses its entire body to express a variety of emotions (Takanishi Laboratory).
Click here for details.

“WF-4RV,” a humanoid flute-playing robot which uses mechanical models to replicate the movement of human organs when playing musical instruments.

“SCHEMA,” a robot capable of communication with multiple people. Developed by the Kobayashi Perceptual Computing Laboratory.
Click here for details.

A future in which medical treatment is provided across physical distances

Hiroyasu Iwata

Our lifestyle has grown through the support of many machines, from mobile phones to computers, air conditioning, elevators, automatic ticket gates and automobiles. As we approach the middle of the 21st century, it is certain that robots will play an even greater role in our lives as machines offer outstanding functions. There are 3 types of robots which are expected to perform more in the future: “ultra human-like machines,” “machines which substitute for human functions,” and “machines which support/expand human functions.”

Ultrasonic echo robot which can perform remote examination and diagnosis

I conduct research in diagnostic/medical treatment robots that fall under the category of “machines which support/expand human functions.” Currently, I am working to develop a “remote ultrasonic echo robot” which automatically acquires ultrasonic echo images from over the stomach of a pregnant woman. The robot then sends this image, which is required for diagnosis of a pregnant woman, to an obstetrician in a separate location. This enables pregnant women to undergo periodic checkups at their home or at neighborhood clinics. Furthermore, in their free time, obstetricians can use the ultrasonic echo images to check the health of the fetus. In the latest version of this robot, a mobile device can be used to remotely control the position and angle of the machine. It is also possible to focus on the amount of amniotic fluid, the fetus’ heart, and other areas of concern. The robot can also be used in emergency treatment. For example, it can be used for treatment in remote areas or in ambulances en route to perform remote diagnosis of internal bleeding for people with external injuries.

By around 2020, I am certain that robotics will realize a dream-like future in which doctors will be able to diagnosis and treat patients in remote areas.

Hiroyasu Iwata (Associate Professor of the Faculty of Science and Engineering)

In 2002, completed the Doctoral Program at the Waseda University Graduate School of Science and Engineering. Holds a PhD in engineering. After working at the Waseda Institute for Advanced Study, assumed the position of Associate Professor of the Department of Modern Mechanical Engineering at the School of Creative Science and Engineering in 2012. From 2003 to 2007, served as Development Leader for the TWENDY-ONE project. In 2011, his research was selected for the Funding Program for Next Generation World-Leading Researchers (NEXT Program).

“Ninomiya-Kun,” a robot capable of reading books out loud with emotion
(Kamata Laboratory)
Robot system to support treatment for breast cancer

The Fujie Laboratory developed a surgical robot to support centesis, a procedure attracting attention as a treatment for breast cancer.
Click here for more details.

“DENTAROID,” a dental patient robot

Used in clinical training and testing, this robot shows the same reactions as a human patient. Developed based on joint research by the Takanishi Laboratory, Showa University and Kogakuin University.

“Jukusui-Kun,” a robot to support people with sleep apnea syndrome
(Kabe Laboratory, Faculty of Human Sciences)

A revolutionary pillow-shaped robot which improves breathing by detecting the sound of snoring and breathing conditions and then correcting the sleeping posture of the user

Security robot “Mitaro-Kun”
(Kamata Laboratory)

Uses a head-mounted camera to photograph its surroundings. Capable of recognizing human faces and following specified people. Developed through joint overseas research between Kamata Laboratory and Peking University.

A training robot for patients with locomotive syndrome*
(Kabe Laboratory, Faculty of Human Sciences)
Locomo-chan (for home usage; shown on left)
Tocco-chan (for use at medical institutions; shown on right)

*Locomotive Syndrome: A condition in which bones, joints and muscles deteriorate, placing the patient at a high risk for need of nursing care