Iran debuts Surena III, its new and improved humanoid robot

Iranian researchers at the University of Tehran just debuted their most recent humanoid robot, dubbed Surena III. During the demonstration, the adult-sized robot walked across the stage, mirrored a person’s arm movement, stood on one foot and bent backwards.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg, however. The robot can also interact with people using voice recognition and speech modules. In addition, it can recognize a person’s face and imitate human gestures. Surena is the third version of a humanoid robot that has been under development for eight years.

Surena III clocks in at 216 pounds and stands six feet and 3 inches tall. It’s stocked with multiple sensors, including the Kinect-based 3D vision module, and has joints powered by 31 servomotors.[1]

Limited yet advanced

Surena III is limited in comparison to some of the world’s most advanced robotic humanoids. Honda’s Asimo, for instance, can hop on one foot and climb a vertical ladder. Other humanoids are capable of driving, using power tools and walking over a pile of bricks.

Despite its limitations, progress has been made while designing Surena in the past seven years. The first version of the robot, Surena I, was released in 2008 and had a mere eight degrees of freedom. The second version of the robot, Surena II, was released in 2010, had 22 degrees of freedom and could walk at a pace of 0.03 meters per second. Surena III, by contrast, has 33 degrees of freedom and can walk ten times faster than its predecessor.[1]

“A speech system can recognize some predefined sentences in Persian. Encoders embedded on all joints, six-axis force/torque sensors on the ankles, and an IMU on the torso help the robot remain stable. To power Surena’s hips and legs, the researchers used a combination of Maxon brushless dc motors, harmonic drives, and timing belt-pulley systems. The upper body uses ROBOTIS Dynamixel EX and MX servos,” explained Erico Guizzo, in an article for IEEE Sprectrum.[2]

Professor Yousefi-Koma from the University of Tehran’s Center for Advanced Systems and Technologies (CAST), told sources that Surena III was developed for healthcare and disaster relief operations. He said the robot served as a symbol for technological progress “in the direction of peace and humanity.”[2]

The humanoid is powered by electric motors in its lower body and servomotor packages in its upper body. These enable the robot to walk up and down stairs, grasp objects, adjust to non-uniform patterns on the ground and kick a soccer ball.

In a video provided by Dr. Yousefi-Koma, Surena III can be seen picking up an object with its hand and passing it over to a researcher. The team can be seen placing a board under the robot’s feet in the video, in order to illustrate its ability to stay upright on an uneven ground.

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A robot still in the making

The researchers also improved the robot’s software. It now runs on Stanford University’s open source Robot Operating System (ROS), which “enables the robot to simultaneously communicate with the environment, manage its behaviors, monitor its sensors, and detect unwanted faults in the system,” according to Dr. Yousefi-Koma.

A supervisory system coupled with a graphical interface enables the programmers to keep track of the robot’s joints and sensors. Furthermore, a software development kit (SDK) with integrated C++ libraries allows the researchers to test new behaviors on the robot.[2]

Approximately 70 students, engineers and professors helped assemble Surena III. Local companies aided in the development of the computer software and speech systems.[2]

Dr. Yousefi-Koma says the group will now focus its efforts on the robot’s interaction with people. In addition, they want to make Surena III more autonomous. They’re also preparing papers about the project in hopes of presenting their research at IEEE conferences in the near future.

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