Japan’s Well-Oiled Moving Machine

Japanese Moving Robots

When Technology & Heavy Things Collide

“Japanese Robot Could Replace Your Moving Company” reads the headline touting the latest droids to come out of the University of Tokyo’s JSK Laboratory.

Wow. Have we finally met our moving industry match? Are we going to have to start calling ourselves HireAHumanoid? A little research tells us…no.

The HRP-2 does have some skills.

Faced with a washing machine or a refrigerator, this shiny sleek mover starts analyzing the object’s weight, dimensions, and friction against the ground surface, then gets itself into proper moving position.

That’s right. This robot is all about the form in its function. Robotics researchers Masayuki Inaba and Kei Okada had no intention of creating just another Transformer that could lift any given major appliance – or a whole house full of major appliances – with one supercharged hand. Those Transformer things are certainly strong but they tend to throw things rather than load them properly onto the truck.

No, this kinder, gentler robot takes its time, going through a series of positional and mechanical possibilities for moving that fridge. It tries pushing with its shoulders or forearms. It tests the viability of pulling from the object’s lower areas of gravity. It even “braces itself so well that if it were human, it would be protecting its back from lifting strain”. Then it starts inching that appliance across the floor (which tells us this miracle mover has never heard of a hand truck).

The HRP-2 also offers some advantages.

It never gets tired, never needs a lunch break and always shows up in uniform. “The robot is also quite stable on its feet,” we are told. “It is programmed to adjust its footsteps to be shorter or longer based on how far it is able to move the object.”

Yes, nice footwork. But if this video of the HRP-2’s performance is any indication, by the time this man of steel gets everything onto the truck the customer will be old and retired and ready to move to Florida. Maybe by that time a new generation of robo-mover – the HRP-2.6 or the HRP-8.0 – will move a little faster.

For now we are confident that we are the industry’s best and most finely-tuned moving machine.

By the way, robotics researchers Inaba and Okada call their technological display “Whole-Body Pushing Manipulation With Contact Posture Planning of Large and Heavy Object for Humanoid Robot”.

We just call it a day’s work.


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