Robot Grooves to its Own Beat

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

A Japanese robot twists and rolls to music from an iPod in an intricate dance based on complex mathematics, a technology developers say will enable robots to move about spontaneously instead of following preprogrammed motions.

Tokyo-based venture ZMP Inc.’s 14-inch long Miuro robot - which looks like a white ball wedged between two halves of an egg - wheels about in time with music from the iPod player that locks into the machine.

At a demonstration in Tokyo on May 31, 2007, the 11-pound Miuro pivoted about on a stage in time to beats of a pop music track played through its speakers. The dance wasn’t preprogrammed, but generated by the robot itself.

Scientists involved in the robot’s development believe the technology could lead to robots capable of spontaneous motion. Miuro uses algorithms, or mathematical rules, to analyze music and translate the beats into dances, said ZMP President Hisashi Taniguchi.

“We aim to create a new form of life that moves freely and spontaneously in ways human beings can’t predict,” Taniguchi said. “We’re hoping to turn Miuro into the ultimate virtual pet.”

Unlike older Miuros, which hit stores last August 2006, the prototype is fitted with software based on what scientists call chaotic itinerancy, a mathematical pattern similar to the movements of a bee circling from flower to flower as it collects nectar.

That allows the new Miuro to act spontaneously and unpredictably - “just like a child playing,” said Tokyo University researcher Takashi Ikegami, who developed the software.

Other improvements will let users set the Miuro like an alarm clock so it wheels into the bedroom and blasts music at a certain time. Future versions of the Miuro will also use built-in sensors to seek out people to play tunes to, Taniguchi said.

ZMP has already shipped 500 units of the original Miuro, which isn’t equipped with the intelligent software but instead responds to a remote-control handheld manipulator.

The 108,800 yen ($895) original Miuro can also receive wireless signals from a personal computer to play iTunes and other stored digital files. Separately sold options add a camera that beams images to PCs or lets owners control their Miuros by mobile phone.

Miuro, short for “music innovation based on utility robot technology,” is only on sale in Japan. ZMP did not give a date for the release of the prototype.

To view a video demonstration on YouTube of the Miuro, click here.


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