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Kangaroo-like transforming robot, created by Chiba university, keen to carry your groceries

by Kazuaki Nagata

Staff Writer

Chiba Institute of Technology unveiled Wednesday a transformable machine that can play dual roles — as both a robot, fused with artificial intelligence technologies, and a vehicle to enhance personal mobility.

The three-wheeled robot called CanguRo — meaning kangaroo in Italian — resembles the animal, but with a mechanical twist.

In robot mode, it functions as a type of assistant. For example, it can follow users around using autonomous-driving technology to help carry shopping bags, said Takayuki Furuta, general manager of the Future Robotics Technology Center run by the university.

When switched to vehicle mode, the robot transforms itself to an electric three-wheeler by unfolding a seat and moving the positions of its wheels.

Controlling the three-wheeler is similar to driving a motorcycle, as it is equipped with a throttle to control forward and backward movement. It can run at a maximum speed of 10 kilometers per hour.

CanguRo is one of a series of machines, dubbed RidRoid, that the institute plans to continue developing. “With this machine, we aim to realize a complete fusion of robot technology and mobility,” Furuta said.

If those goals are realized, the team could develop a new way for humans to use vehicles in order to enhance personal mobility, Furuta added. However, when the robot might be ready for its market debut remains to be seen, the university acknowledged.

It weighs 64 kilograms and is capable of driving itself by analyzing real-time mapping along with the use of image recognition and positioning data, the institute said.

Furuta said artificial intelligence components of the CanguRo are still under development, but that it is expected to be able to speak, too.

Another technical feature of the device is an in-wheel driving unit, also created by the Narashino-based university. The driving unit can be easily used as a component of other devices, Furuta said. For instance, if the driving unit is attached to a chair with sensors and a computer, it can become a personal mobility device.

Nippon Thompson Co., a Tokyo-based mechanical parts manufacturer that co-developed the unit, expressed excitement over its future but also remained vague on the timing of it entrance into the market.

The CanguRo is scheduled to be showcased in Los Angeles this summer at Japan House, an exhibition center set up to promote Japanese products and culture.