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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.

Three-way discussion among researchers

World-leading robot research at Waseda

A discussion was held among Professor Masakatsu Fujie, Professor Atsuo Takanishi and Professor Shigeki Sugano, all of whom are involved in Waseda robot research at the Faculty of Science and Engineering. The three professors talked about “robot research” for contributing to world peace and human happiness, as well as prospects for robot research at Waseda.

Realizing human-like robots
Waseda robot research

——Please discuss your research activities.

Fujie: My research focuses on health care robots for the medical and welfare fields. One example is robots to support surgical operations. In particular, in the case of centesis treatment, there is a significant difference in operations performed by experienced doctors and inexperienced doctors. My research supports operations by using a robot system to replicate the technique of experienced doctors. Recently, in addition to the brain and liver, I am conducting research for breast cancer and lung cancer. Another theme of mine is robots for rehabilitation. I want to create robots to support enjoyable rehabilitation by disabled elderly people. All of my research is tied by the theme of symbiosis between humans and robots.

Takanishi: My research focuses on biped walking and running used in humanoid robots which was started by Waseda in the 1960s and was descended from the tide of bipedal robotics. I also conduct research on robots which can express emotions. By combining this technology with bipedal robots, I seek to develop robots which can use their entire body to express a variety of emotions. Through applied research in the medical and welfare fields, I have already realized practical use of patient robots for the training of medical practitioners. Through sufficient practice on patient robots which are identical to humans and replicate a variety of medical conditions, it is possible prevent medical accidents and heighten the quality of treatment.

Sugano: I conduct research for human symbiotic robots. As Japanese society grows older, consideration for safety is essential when using robots to support human life. I seek to functionally achieve the dexterity and skill of human hands so that robots can adapt to the movement of people. Such functionality can also be applied to industrial robots used in farming, forestry and construction. I am also working to develop the “ultimate robot.” This involves infusing robots and machines with human “spirit,” as well as pushing the boundaries of life in robots. Through this research, I seek to clarify human beings. Professor Takanishi also conducts similar research. Indeed, this is an eternal theme shared by all robotics laboratories at Waseda.

Takanishi: In that respect, I consider the perspective of modeling to be very important. For example, by creating an image of a model through words, a novel creates sensation in the reader. In the same way, I am trying to model the human “spirit” through a broad perspective of emotions. Professor Hiroshi Kimura of the Psychology Major at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences is instructing me on now to perform such modeling.

Seeking to establish Waseda’s M-Robotics (Methodical Robotics) as a global standard

——What are the special features of robot research at Waseda?

Masakatsu Fujie
Professor of the Faculty of Science and Engineering

Fujie: Waseda is special because it does not specialize in industrial robots; rather, it focuses on the unclear subject of “human beings.” For example, for my research theme of liver cancer, the size of the tumor, characteristics of the tumor and symptoms differ in each patient. Robot systems have the mission of responding to all such differences, providing proper treatment for the tumor, and enabling the patient to live a happy life.

Sugano: Another source of pride at Waseda is that our university makes our own original robots. The body and movement of a machine are tied closely together. Therefore, in addition to computer calculations, we actually build the robot and test whether it moves according to simulations. Waseda offers an education and curriculum in which robots are built after understanding materials and solidifying the design foundation.

Takanishi: Researchers throughout the world are familiar with Waseda’s tradition of actually building and testing devices. As a result, researchers from the world’s top universities come to Waseda to perform such practical research.

Fujie: The “Global Robot Academia” project (2008 to 2013) was selected for the MEXT’s GCOE Program. This project sought to establish the education of Waseda robot research groups as a global standard under the name of M-Robotics (Methodical Robotics). As part of this education, the textbook “RTPedia” was made available on the internet. There is also disclosure of research content such as theories and data acquired from tests of created machines. This project helps to advance corporate research and development, as well as to use robotics history to guide students interested in high-level research to the next stage.

Sugano: Professor Tetsunori Kobayashi of the Perceptual Computing Laboratory and I are coordinating the “Program for Leading Graduate Schools” which started from 2013. This program is based upon the spirit of cooperation between mechanical researchers and information researchers from different departments and majors. In this way, we carry on the spirit of Professor Ichiro Kato (deceased; Department of Mechanical Engineering), who is known as the father of world robotics development and who started the research group for humanoid robots in 1970.

Takanishi: At that time, the mechanism of biped walking had not yet been researched. I have heard that research was started by building a single leg which possessed a femur (hip joint), lower leg (knee joint) and foot (ankle joint), and then moving those joints.

Fujie: Waseda truly cooperates in so many ways. The research Professor Takanishi just described led to the completion of WABOT-1. The next-generation WABOT-2 robot attracted much attention when it played an electronic piano as part of a display at the Tsukuba Expo.

Sugano: A robot is a system that combines a variety of elements. Researchers must be familiar with a wide range of technology including computers, electric circuits, mechanical material and design. There is also the need for knowledge from other areas such as the medical field and psychology. By building robots, students studying robotics acquire the ability to combine a variety of knowledge.

Takanishi: Also, robots are always made by teams. This allows students to naturally acquire methods for improving communication skills and teamwork skills.

Importance of learning by “experiencing mistakes”

——What do you focus on in terms of education?

Atsuo Takanishi
Professor of the Faculty of Science and Engineering

Takanishi: I make students go to Akihabara and purchase electronic components used in class. For example, when trying to purchase a 50k Ohm resistor, the salesperson might ask “How many watts?” Because students do not know how many watts, they come back to university without having purchased the component. In other words, although students had theoretical knowledge regarding the relationship among watts, volts and amperes, the act of actually building something gives them understanding through experience. I learned this method from Professor Kato.

Sugano: Indeed, the Kato Laboratory was even known as “Akihabara University!” It is truly important to learn from experience.

Fujie: My laboratory uses the same line of thinking. Having book knowledge alone can lead to accidents during experiments when working as a researcher.

Takanishi: You could say that knowledge based on “experience” is better than “systematic” knowledge. It is impossible to build a good robot without “experiencing mistakes.” In that respect, I feel bad for today’s students who are unable to dissemble familiar items such as clocks and televisions in order to study their mechanisms.


“WABIAN,” a bipedal robot, and “KOBIAN,” a robot which uses its entire body to express emotion

“WABIAN” was developed by the Takanishi Laboratory as an advanced model of “WABOT.” By using a hip mechanism, WABIAN is able to walk similar to humans, bending and extending its knees. WABIAN currently serves as a human motion simulator when developing care tools such as devices to support walking. The Takanishi Laboratory also developed “KOBIAN,” a robot which uses its entire body to express the 7 emotions of happiness, anger, surprise, sadness, fear, hate and a normal emotional state. In the future, this emotion technology is expected to support smooth communication between people and robots.


Fujie: Parents sometimes ask me the following question. “My child gets depressed when their experiment is a mistake. Will mistakes lower my child’s grades?” The answer is that a mistaken experiment will not affect a student’s academic record. When I was a university student, I broke the latest model of a milling machine during an experiment. Although I made an engineer working at the laboratory very angry, there was no effect on my grades. Instead, I learned a lot from my mistake.

Takanishi: When a student is working as an engineer in the future, he or she may design something which causes an accident. However, experiencing mistakes at university provides first-hand learning of critical points, resulting in the ability to design safe machines and equipment.

Sugano: That’s why Waseda values learning through mistakes while embracing challenges. Students obtain a practical understanding of designs and limitations. During experiments, skilled faculty engineers instruct students regarding safety. Waseda excels at manufacturing because we possess such an outstanding curriculum, offer an ideal environment for experiments, and boast highly-knowledgeable instructors.

Takanishi: Cooperation from faculty engineers is very important. Engineering laboratories are more than departments; indeed, they are shared laboratories which provide services to the entire School of Science and Engineering.

Fujie: At first, I am greeted with quizzical looks when I bring unusual experiment equipment to a laboratory. For example, everyone was surprised by my experiment for compressing a liver. However, everyone eventually develops an interest in my work and devises ways to make it better. Actually, it was a member of the engineering faculty who proposed that we display WABOT-1 and WABOT-2 in the newly built Building No. 63.

Sugano: Until then, the WABOT robots had been left in a battered condition in Building No. 58. However, faculty engineers fixed them just like new. Today, the robots are included in campus tours as a main display of the School of Science and Engineering.

Takanishi: Waseda has led Japan through a large amount of innovative research. For example, our university developed the “Waseda television,” the first Japanese TV to successfully send and receive images through radio-wave transmission. Other firsts in Japan were the “Waseda resistor” and analog computer. Similar to the Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum, I would like to create a Science and Engineering Museum which is open to the general public.

Fujie: The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has an “MIT Museum” which displays of the Nobel Prizes won by MIT and exhibits of research. Waseda should also show more respect for our history. The other day, I found technical drawings made by student in a class held 100 years ago. I would like to display such drawings.

Sugano: Today’s student must have the creativity to innovate. In that respect, it is important to understand history. New discoveries can be made by understanding the flow of past technology and applying that understanding to one’s own research field.

Using simple language to create interest among many people

——Would you please discuss your aspirations for robot research in the future?

Shigeki Sugano
Professor of the Faculty of Science and Engineering

Sugano: There is still no practical application of humanoid robots. However, such technology is currently used most frequently in automobiles. Although automobiles are driven by people, it is actually computers that control safety and movement.

Takanishi: Robotics is also being used more often in aircraft. Today, fully-automatic takeoff and landing has become possible.

Fujie: The shinkansen (bullet train) has also been fully automated. Computers make calculations and control driving. On the other hand, it is necessary for people to take control in unexpected situations or when intuition is required.

Sugano: The creation of systems which utilize the strengths of human beings and machines is an important point. Such systems will lead to a future society in which people and machines can coexist.

Fujie: However, even when robots are used to achieve full automation, too many people are unaware of that fact. No one recognizes the outstanding technology of the shinkansen which prevented any derailing during the Great East Japan Earthquake. Therefore, it is necessary for researchers to clearly show the benefits of technology.

Sugano: Understanding for a particular field can only be achieved through explanations which are easily understood by the general public. Indeed, if a researcher is not capable of giving a clear explanation, then that researcher does not truly understand the technology in question. That’s why I ask my students “Could you explain your research to a primary/junior high school student?” Giving clear explanations is the basis for understanding by researchers.

Takanishi: Currently, Waseda is working to recruit outstanding students through mock classes given at regional high schools by robotics faculty members. By holding such lessons, we seek to raise interest in robotics. It is vital that we use easy-to-understand language to create interest in Waseda’s research for bringing happiness to mankind.

Sugano: There are many videos of robots and most students are interested in robotics. In that respect, the field is relatively easy to understand.

Fujie: Previously, university faculty used difficult language to explain simple subjects. However, from now on, we must give easy-to-understand explanations of difficult subjects. If we strive to use clear language when conveying our research to society, I believe that university research can contribute to world peace and human happiness.


Nursing care robot for smooth support of elderly lifestyle

The Sugano Laboratory has developed “TWENDY-ONE,” a nursing care robot which emphasizes safety. The robot is equipped with full-body tactile sensory functions and high-level sensing performance for avoiding contact and collision with people. TWENDY-ONE also has fingers for which pressure adjustment is possible, enabling the robot to handle complicated shapes and soft items in the same manner as human beings. TWENDY-ONE can coexist with people in an ultra elderly society, supporting housework and nursing care such as moving people from beds into wheelchairs.

Waseda robot research benefits people and society.

——What are your aspirations for robot research at Waseda?

“RT Frontier” exhibits Waseda robot research to the general public.

Located along Meiji-dori Street close to the Science and Engineering Campus, RT (Robot Technology) Frontier is a research center for robots supporting human life. The center periodically holds public workshops featuring human-support robots. The 1st floor of the center features “COSMAR,” a venue for communication between people and robots. COSMAR exhibits robots for assisting the elderly and for supporting rehabilitation, giving the general public an opportunity to experience robot technology.

International Robot Exhibition 2013

The “International Robot Exhibition 2013” was held at the Tokyo Big Sight for 4 days from November 6 to 9, 2013. From Waseda University, the Takanishi Laboratory, Kabe Laboratory and Takafumi Matsumaru Laboratory at the Graduate School exhibited at the RT Interactive Plaza. The laboratories displayed a variety of robot technology including “Jukusui-Kun,” a robot for supporting sleep apnea syndrome.

Fujie: When I was a university student, I saw an American movie entitled Fantastic Voyage (1966). To summarize the plot, the world’s top doctors and nurses boarded a nuclear submarine which was shrunk to the size of a red blood cell and entered the human body in order to treat disease. I want to create a medical/nursing care robot with that kind of functionality. If I was able to develop such a robot, I would have achieved all of my research goals.

Takanishi: I want to increase the level of bipedal robots, emotionally expressive robots, and humanoid robots which play musical instruments. Instead of each robot possessing a singular function, I want to create robots with multiple capabilities. This will bring robots closer to human beings. Also, the practical application is important to give back university robot research to society. Such work is also connected with Waseda’s spirit of “anti-elitist philosophy.”

Sugano: It is easy to raise the concept of creating human-like robots and robots which are useful to people. However, it is difficult to find specific themes for achieving this goal. Of course, as time passes and technology advances, robots are steadily becoming human-like. In that respect, we are sure to progress through consistent effort. Still, I want to set specific goals for my research.

Fujie: The field of robotics provides us with dreams for the future. Our greatest dream is to cultivate young researchers in our field. One example of such action is public workshops using human-support robots. Held every month by RT Frontier, the goal of this workshop is to create understanding for robot technology among the general public.

Takanishi: The Humanoid Robotics Institute has published a picture book series entitled The Book of Wabot (total of 7 volumes). The other day, we presented a large number of these books to Minamisanriku Town in Miyagi Prefecture. I hope that these books will bring new dreams to children. I believe that the role of engineering is to realize human happiness through the creation of new things.

Sugano: There are two ways in which robot research can contribute to future society. The first is for robots to be useful to society. The second is the application of RT (robot technology) to other fields. RT refers to new advanced manufacturing technology born from robot research. Although it is not readily apparent, RT is already applied in a variety of ways in today’s advanced technology. RT is expected to be the next big technology following IT.

Fujie: In the future, we must take a different approach from “engineering” as seen by the general public. Japan excels at such microscopic technology. For example, there is RT technology for clearly measuring human qualities and sensations such as the “feeling of drink going down a throat” of beverage manufacturers, the “feeling of fabric or moisture” made by cosmetic or underwear manufacturers, and the “comfortable ride” of auto manufacturers. RT is playing a bigger role in the world every day. I hope that students will work to apply their robot research to a variety of fields to ensure further progress in the future.

Masakatsu Fujie
Professor of the Faculty of Science and Engineering

Graduated from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the Waseda University School of Science and Engineering in 1969. Completed the Master’s Program at the Waseda University Graduate School of Science and Engineering in 1971. Conducted R&D for robots at the Mechanical Engineering Research Laboratory, Hitachi, Ltd., where he held the position of Research Director. In 2001, appointed as Professor at the Waseda University School of Science and Engineering. Conducts research for applying and advancing robotics in order to contribute to human medicine and welfare. His research focuses on innovative robots that provide walking assistance to the elderly and support brain surgery. Has received numerous awards including the Robotics Society of Japan Technical Innovations Awards, the Nikkei BP Technology Award, and JSME Robotics and Mechatronics Division Prize. Holds a PhD in engineering.

Atsuo Takanishi
Professor of the Faculty of Science and Engineering

Graduated from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the Waseda University School of Science and Engineering in 1980. Completed the Doctoral Program at the Waseda University Graduate School of Science and Engineering in 1985. Holds a PhD in engineering. Appointed as Assistant Professor at the Waseda University School of Science and Engineering in 1990 and Professor in 1997. Director of the Waseda University Humanoid Robotics Institute and Vice-Chairperson of the Robotics Society of Japan. Served as a visiting researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (America) from 1990 to 1991 and in 2004. Served as a Visiting Professor at the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna (Italy) in 1998 and 2005. In winter 2000, served as instructor at Christmas Lecture, an open science seminar for youths which is held in England and possesses the highest status in the world. His written works include My Robot (the Yomiuri Shimbun) and All about Humanoid Robots (Nikkan Kogyo Shimbun, Ltd.), etc.

Shigeki Sugano
Professor of the Faculty of Science and Engineering

Graduated from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the Waseda University School of Science and Engineering in 1981. Completed the Doctoral Program at the Waseda University Graduate School of Science and Engineering in 1986. Obtained his PhD in engineering through research for a robot which plays keyboard instruments and was exhibited at the 1989 Tsukuba Expo. Appointed as Assistant Professor at the Waseda University School of Science and Engineering in 1992. Served as a visiting researcher at Stanford University (America) from 1993 to 1994. Appointed as Professor at the Waseda University School of Science and Engineering in 1998. Served as Director of the WABOT-HOUSE Laboratory from 2001 to 2012. Interested in applying man-machine systems revised from the perspective of biomechanics to human symbiotic robots, human-robot communication, and intelligent manufacturing systems. His written works include Human Dreams and Robot History (JIPM Solutions), etc.


Discussion with a “Waseda Rikoh-girl”
Research for a “robot to support breast cancer operations”

Mariko Chikune
Majoring in modern mechanical engineering at the Graduate School of Creative Science and Engineering; 1st-year student in the Doctoral Program of the Medical Engineering and Assistive Technology Laboratory (Masakatsu Fujie Laboratory)

Treatment for breast cancer has a strong gender-based element. In order to reduce the physical, aesthetic and emotional burden on female patients, there is a need for both high-level diagnostic systems and localized treatment techniques. One particular treatment attracting attention is centesis, which involves piercing the tumor with an electrode needle and killing it with heat. However, soft breast tissue is prone to deformation during centesis. Consequently, treatment results are influenced by the skill of the performing doctor. In order to solve this problem, senior students at our laboratory constructed a model centesis system for assisting treatment. Next, they performed verification tests using robots. My research theme is the application of hardness-measuring technology to develop fully-automated sensing systems which perform “palpation” with the same skills as an experienced human physician. By using robots to assist in all stages from diagnosis to treatment, I hope to contribute to the spread of breast cancer examinations and the improvement of treatment technology.

My encounter with “medical/welfare robot” research at Waseda University opened a whole new world for me. I feel that this field fits my character and abilities in a variety of ways. For example, medical care and welfare were a familiar theme for me because my grandfather was a doctor. In junior high school, I studied the reaction of gravity and became fascinated with dynamics. Finally, I have always enjoyed drawing pictures and making crafts such as handicrafts.

In the future, I hope to work at corporations related to medical instrument or other areas leading to practical application while performing R&D for robots to assist in breast cancer operations, so that I conduct research which will benefit people.

Click here for information on “Waseda Rikoh-girls”


Discussion with a Waseda graduate
Responding to the expectation for robots which benefit mankind

Hideki Kondo
Partner Robot Division, Toyota Motor Corporation

I entered the Takanishi Laboratory after watching a class video on bipedal robots. In addition to researching bipedal humanoid robots at Takanishi Laboratory, I noticed there are many opportunities for the general public to interact with robots at events such as the Aichi Expo. I strongly feel that people have great hope for robot technology.

Partner robot currently under development

In order to respond to the expectation toward robots which I felt while conducting research at university, it is necessary to make robots into a “product.” I work at Toyota Motor Corporation, which is applying automotive production technology in order to realize the practical implementation of personal robots that are reliable partners for assisting personal mobility, nursing care, medicine and daily life. Through such efforts, Toyota seeks to contribute to society and all people. As part of such work, I am currently in charge of developing electronic control units for robots. My research at Waseda enabled me to study a wide range of field such as mechanics, electronics, control and software. In addition, the ability to perceive all elements as a single system and the management experience of leading a research team are invaluable experiences when working in society.

I conduct steady development for practical application while considering what kinds of services can be provided by robots and how to enrich people’s daily lives. I hope that my research will benefit many people in the near future.

In 2010, completed the Doctoral Program in Integrative Bioscience and Biomedical Engineering at the Waseda University Graduate School of Advanced Science and Engineering. Holds a PhD in engineering. Appointed as a research associate at the Waseda University Department of Modern Mechanical Engineering in 2009. From 2011, involved in the development of electronic units at the Partner Robot Division of Toyota Motor Corporation.