Monday, July 28, 2008

Robot lands on Reem Island

Original Article

The whirr of electronic limbs and an eerie, synthetic voice brought artificial life onto the vast construction site that is Reem Island yesterday.

Standing 1.5 metres tall and weighing 60 kilograms, Reem B has an orange-accented metallic body and enjoys an occasional game of chess or a quiet, hydraulically-aided stroll down the hallway.

The Arab world’s most advanced humanoid robot was publicly unveiled in a ceremony attended by dignitaries including Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.

Its developers, the Abu Dhabi-based PAL Technology, said it was “one of the most sophisticated humanoid robots in the world”.

“It is completely autonomous,” said Davide Faconti, the head of PAL’s robotics division. “It knows where it is, and where it is going.” It could lift objects six times heavier than Asimo – the world’s best known robot, developed by Honda of Japan – could, he said.

“I would say it is among the top 10 robots in the world,” said Professor Noel Sharkey, a researcher and international authority on robotics who was in Abu Dhabi to attend the launch.

PAL saw a promising future for robots like Reem B. They could help humans perform everyday tasks, or care for the sick and elderly, said Basar Shueb, the general manager of Pal Technology.

He said the company’s ultimate goal was “to create a truly useful humanoid service robot that will be able to help humans in the future with sophisticated tasks”.

Advanced robotics has traditionally been the domain of researchers in post-industrial nations like Japan and South Korea.

PAL Technology’s decision to invest in such an enterprise was driven by a wish of Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed, the chairman of The Royal Group, the parent company of PAL Technology.

Developing the robot was based more on this vision rather than immediate commercial returns, said Peter Abraam, the executive director of strategic planning at The Royal Group. The robot was developed by an inhouse team of engineers and did not rely on co-operation with outside universities or industrial groups.

“We have spent a significant amount of money and a significant amount of time,” said Mr Abraam. “The next step is about commercialisation.”

It was also announced that scholarships would be available for three information technology students from Abu Dhabi University to take part in the advanced robotics and artificial intelligence work associated with the development of Reem B and its successors.

Scholarships such as these should form a backbone for future technological innovation to emerge from the nation, the company said.

The robot can recognise faces, engage in conversation and navigate its way around rooms and offices, all skills demonstrated at yesterday’s launch.

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