Robot aid combines strength with sensitivity

Twendy-One is one of the most advanced, but sensitive, robots yet developed.

It's not often we look at a piece of gadgetry that costs £100,000, has a battery that expires after just 15 minutes and which doesn't always work properly and still come away impressed, but that happened yesterday in Tokyo when we saw the most sophisticated domestic robot yet built.

Twendy-One is the creation of Professor Shigeki Sugano at Tokyo's Waseda University and is a sensitive robot (in every possible way) designed to act as a home help. The Tokyo demonstration showcased the most likely future role for the project by having the machine help a wheelchair-bound volunteer with some everyday tasks.

Hundreds of sensors per hand

After helping the man get out of bed and into his chair, Twendy-One picked up a loaf of bread, extracted a slice and got to work making him breakfast, all without damaging either human flesh or food. When asked for ingredients, it can fetch them from a cupboard or refrigerator by itself.

Voice recognition helps the machine interact with users, while the key to its gentle touch is in over 200 pressure sensors in each hand that enable it to gauge how much pressure is needed to hold an item firmly without damaging it. Twendy-One's predecessor, Wendy, was the first automaton to be able to crack an egg into a pan correctly.

Given that the project has so far taken seven years, the price tag isn't surprising, although it will come down to that level only when commercial production is possible around 2015. Until then, eggs sunny side up please Twendy-One.

J Mark Lytle was an International Editor for TechRadar, based out of Tokyo, who now works as a Script Editor, Consultant at NHK, the Japan Broadcasting Corporation. Writer, multi-platform journalist, all-round editorial and PR consultant with many years' experience as a professional writer, their bylines include CNN, Snap Media and IDG.