Graduate School of Engineering, Robotics Laboratory
Graduate School of Engineering Robotics Laboratory
"Robots" will play a more and more important role in the future as they are remotely operated in hazardous locations or other purposes. Robotics Laboratory "Namiki Group" is developing robots that respond quickly to commands or operate by remote control for a variety of needs. We interviewed Associate Professor Akio Namiki who is leading the laboratory.
Associate Professor of (Department of Mechanical Engineering) Artificial Systems Science, Graduate School of Engineering of Chiba University.
Graduated from Department of Mathematical Engineering and Information Physics, School of Engineering, the University of Tokyo.
Finished the doctoral course of the Graduate School of Engineering of the same university. Doctor of Engineering. Conducting research on speedily responsive multi-fingered robotic hand, remotely controlled robots with integrated sensory information from multiple senses including visual and touch senses, and other robots.
What was the process for you to advance into research on robotics?
Actually, I was not necessarily fascinated by robots when I was a child, but I was rather interested in the bodily mechanism of living beings, and I liked illustrated reference books a lot. I was generally interested in theoretically clarifying mechanisms and functions, not limited to robots. I thought movements and bodily structures of a living thing are functional and beautiful. After I entered the faculty of engineering, I learned that I can reproduce such functional movements with robots, and that's why I began studying robotics.
Fortunately, in the graduate school, I was able to develop a robotic hand system that rapidly responds to the visual sense, and this became the basis for my research today.
Please tell us about the robots you are studying at the moment.
Generally, there are "robots that respond and move automatically in response to the external information" and "robots that are operated by humans."
Autonomously responsive robots can be utilized for industrial purposes at production or manufacturing lines.
In my laboratory, we made robot hands capable of performing juggles or playing air hockey for studying accurate, rapid robotic movements with the use of using visual and touch sensors.
On the other hand, remotely controlled robots are designed to reproduce human movements in dangerous locations.
The demand for remotely controlled robots is growing to be used on disaster or accident sites, and their importance will only increase in the future.
The master-slave robots that my lab is developing implement much lighter-weight design for the equipment worn by the operator than conventional designs, resulting in higher mobility and operability, as well as easier maintenance.
We are also promoting a study for changing the robot to be controlled with a single switch operation.
What are some of the features of the robotic hand that you developed?
For a remotely controlled robot, its structure has to be designed somewhat similarly to that of a human who operates it, but it is not necessarily the case with a robotic hand.
Human movements are assisted by his muscles but a robot moves with a motor, so their basic characteristics are different. It is possible to raise the performance level if a robot is designed with robotic structures and mechanisms.
The robots developed in my lab are designed according to robotic characteristics for the number of fingers, movements of finger tips, number of joints and so on so that they can carry out the tasks in the precision and at the speed required of them.
The juggling robot I mentioned earlier is quite unique in the entire world and I am proud of it, but it was realized as the result of giving top priority to the robotic functions.
What are your plans for your future research?
The primary goal of robotics is to be practically applied and useful for society, so I will further promote our studies so far to develop robots of higher performance.
Given the growing social needs for remotely controlled robots, we will put much effort in this field continuously.
My personal dream is to pursue and confirm if we can create robots that surpass humans in motility, intelligence or other specifications.
Last of all, please give a message to the students.
I think the Chiba University students are highly capable in a general sense, but they can be more self-willed, I feel. Research is a world of competition, so you cannot achieve No.1 position unless you get ahead of other universities or research institutions.
I hope they demonstrate a stronger determination to cut through the way they believe and to maximize their fine abilities.
The juggling robot throws two balls upward alternately with one arm by utilizing the movement of its joints and wrist.
Remotely operated "master-slave robot." Use of a light-weight, flexible, multi-linked mechanism called Flexible Sensor Tube reduced the burden on the operator and thus enabled more dynamic, rapid operation.
The air hockey robot does not predict the puck's trajectory but responds to its movement by means of sensors.
Associate Professor Namiki says, "in a normal match, it usually beats a human opponent."