Toyota’s Ceiling-Mounted Gantry Robot Performs Household Chores
How Capable is Toyota’s Gantry Robot to Ease Humans’ Household Works?
The Earth’s population is rapidly aging, with people aged 65 and over constituting the world’s fastest-growing age group. It may create problems for many countries as they struggle to find resources to look after seniors. That’s why Toyota has been putting more muscle into forward-looking robotics research over the past several years. Although Toyota is probably best known for its cars, it has developed many robots in recent decades. Now the Toyota Research Institute (TRI) has unveiled a home robot named ‘gantry robot’ that would descend from an overhead framework to perform household chores, aiming older generations healthy and happy as they age.
The concept of a gantry robot moves with the help of rails that are mounted in the ceiling. It can be called when needed to perform the same tasks as a floor-based mobile robot, such as loading the dishwasher, cleaning clutter, and wiping surfaces, but with the innovative overhead mobility system. By traveling on the ceiling, the robot avoids the problems of navigating household floor clutter and navigating cramped spaces. The robot would tuck itself up out of the way when not in use.
Toyota says the robot’s design was inspired by trips to Japanese homes, where researchers discovered that limited floor space would constrain a robot’s ability to help. Their solution was to imagine a future home built with robots directly integrated into the architecture. Developing new robot-assisted homes from scratch would create its problems, but the design itself solves some issues.
“Instead of needing a robot to navigate the cluttered floor, it could travel on the ceiling and be tucked out of the way when it’s not required,” said co-lead of robotics fleet learning at the Toyota research institute (TRI) Dan Helmick, during a virtual presentation.
TRI’s presentation also covered beyond hardware prototypes, including learning through demonstration, scaling learning through simulation, and how TRI has been working with users to fight out what research directions should be explored.
It’s only been five years since Toyota announced the USD 1 billion investment that established TRI, and the progression is substantial since then. It’s not frequent that vision, resources, and long-term commitment come together like this. TRI’s emphasis on making life better for people is one thing that helps the industry be optimistic about the future of robotics.
Additionally, TRI also demoed a ‘soft bubble gripper’ that uses air-filled cushions to gently grab various objects and a floor-based mobile robot with the same essential capacities as its bat-like companion. The institute’s researchers also showed how they’re using virtual reality (VR) to train these machines. Humans perform the desired actions such as wiping down a tabletop, using VR controllers, and then these movements are programmed into the robots. Several robotic companies are using similar techniques to overcome the challenges of physical programming movements into machines.
These bots are very much just prototypes, and Toyota has no immediate mindset to commercialize the tech. As per a report from TechRepublic, Max Bajracharya, vice president of robotics at TRI, said, “The robots that you see today are prototypes to accelerate our research, but they will be turned into products any time soon.”
Although Toyota is one of many companies developing home robots, the field remains extremely difficult. Many labs have created machines that can perform household chores in the lab. It is not proven easy to transfer those skills into real homes, where not every aspect of even simple tasks can be measured and anticipated.
However, Toyota’s approach is reassuringly empathetic, with the lab focused on building around humans’ needs and expectations, not overriding them. As TRI’s CEO Gill Pratt told IEEE Spectrum, the idea is to amplify instead of replacing human ability. It means building technology that allows humans to continue living and working and relating to one another as if they were younger,” said Gill Pratt.