Japanese engineers put robot behind wheel


Musashi, a musculoskeletal humanoid robot, has been able to drive a car autonomously, including using its eyes to track objects in side-view mirrors.

A team of researchers at Tokyo University has taken a different approach to autonomous driving. They have put a humanoid robot that mimics human motion in great detail behind the wheel.

A video clip released by researchers showed Musashi making a turn, accelerating, and stopping the car to let a person pass in front of it, among other capabilities.

The robot’s flexible build includes grip control, which allows it to steer the car in a human-like manner by pressing the wheel with both hands rather than grasping it. It has mechanical spring fingers to rotate an ignition key, pull a handbrake, and turn a signal switch.

Musashi uses its feet to press the acceleration and brake pedals. It can sense the force of an instep, which helps it to recover quickly if its foot slips off the pedal.

The robot is equipped with eyes that move to track the road in front and recognize objects like humans in the side mirrors. Thanks to its machine learning software, it is also capable of improving its driving skills.

However, much more work will be needed until Musashi becomes a truly proficient driver. Many of the functions it’s capable of, such as steering the wheel, need to be perfected, while new ones have to be added for the system to be fully autonomous.

For example, the robot must be able to get into the car on its own, determine its position, and plan its driving motions. It must also learn to operate different vehicles and distinguish between them.

“The content we handled in this study is only a part of the entire system for autonomous driving,” the authors said in a paper published on an open-access platform arXiv. The study has also been accepted by IEEE Robotics and Automation Magazine for peer review.