March 23, 2021
Engaging in Co-Creation Robot Research with Researchers around the World
Toyota develops and makes publicly available simulation software that allows robots to move in virtual spaces
The Toyota Motor Corporation (Toyota) Frontier Research Center is dedicated to providing freedom of mobility for all. To that end, it is engaged in research into robots that live in harmony with people. The Frontier Research Center has adopted co-creation research, which is a collaborative approach to research whereby researchers around the world are free to participate as they choose. Here, we ask researchers Yuuka Hashiguchi and Yasukata Yokochi why Toyota has chosen a co-creation approach to developing robots, and we also hear about the latest results of their research.
What type of robots are you researching?
― Toyota is engaged in research related to several types of robots. Can you tell us something about the type of robot you are researching?
We are conducting research into the Human Support Robot (HSR)1. The HSR coexists with people in shared living spaces, moves independently, and is capable of both recognizing and grasping objects. As well as being able to move of its own accord, the HSR can be remotely operated. Examples of such robots in use appear in the diagrams below. At some point in their lives, most people need to receive some support. That is particularly true of individuals for whom everyday life poses difficulties and those who are continually busy. For such people, I believe the help afforded by the HSR is urgently required.
We announced our HSR in 2012. Presently, we are engaged in research on a daily basis: the goal is achieving a society in which robots and people can live in harmony2.
― What difficulties have you encountered in your HSR research?
Please imagine that we want a robot to bring an object in an environment that is constantly changing, which is much like a human living space. First, in such a disordered environment, the robot has to recognize its surroundings and identify the target object. Then, while remaining constantly aware of that environment, it has to act based on its plans, such as, how to move, how to extend its arm, and how to grasp the object with its fingers. From this example, it is clear that actions that are very simple for humans require the execution of tasks that for robots are extremely diverse and complex. At present, no robots can reliably execute such actions with human-like smoothness.
To resolve these challenges, Toyota in 2015 established the HSR Developers’ Community. With the goal of working together with many research institutions, it adopted a co-creation research approach3.
― In practical terms, how do you proceed with co-creation research?
In the HSR Developers’ Community, many researchers around the world use the HSRs as a shared research platform, and they are primarily engaged in developing software to operate the HSRs. Currently, 44 organizations from 13 countries, including Japan, are participating members of the HSR Developers’ Community. Each organization establishes its own research themes, but we all work toward a common goal of robots that are capable of “supporting human life activities and living in harmony with people”. Research results are made public in a number of ways, such as academic papers, open source software (OSS)4, and robot competitions. At Toyota, we also publicize the results of our research, and share the HSR software that we have developed with the HSR Developers’ Community.
Making new collaborations through OSS
― What area of research have you been engaged in recently?
We hope to encourage as many people as possible to utilize our research results and the HSR software. That is why together with MID Academic Promotions Inc. (Inage Ward, Chiba City), we have developed a new simulator that allows users to move the HSR within a virtual environment. It was based on the HSR simulator previously used by the community. We have also made this new simulator available to the public as OSS5. That's because everyone can research the HSR software wherever he or she is—even if they do not have the actual HSRs.
With this new HSR simulator, we have preinstalled an arena that conforms to the World Robot Summit (WRS) rule book. When users execute the software they have programmed, it is automatically scored by the simulator according to the WRS rules. This automatic scoring makes it easy for users to identify the strong and weak points in their algorithms. As well as being employed for research purposes, it can be used as a teaching tool for developing simulator-based robot software in competitions. In fact, it will be expected to be utilized widely.
― What was the reaction to you making the HSR simulator publicly available?
Owing to COVID-19, it has become difficult to participate in robot competitions in person. The RoboCup JapanOpen2020 was hosted by the Japan RoboCup Regional Committee and ran from October 30 to November 1, 2020. That competition made use of the HSR simulator6 and was held online. It was the first-ever competition to use the HSR simulator, but nine teams from Japan and overseas took part. Most participants were researchers and university students, but the event also attracted unexpected interest, including a first-grade high school student. At some universities, the HSR simulator has also begun to be used in classes.
― What steps did you take to make the HSR simulator publicly available as OSS?
Before releasing OSS to the general public, we had to learn the rules and culture related to OSS, decide on a release process, and adhere to it. That is why we established internal training systems and an internal process for releasing OSS based on the relevant international ISO standard7. The first OSS we released using this ISO-based process was the HSR simulator.
― Finally, what are your future goals for promoting OSS and researching the HSR?
I believe that OSS will be increasingly applied in robot research. When releasing and using OSS, it is important to recognize that the software should not just be for our own profit: it should benefit large numbers of people.
With practical implementation of the HSR and other robots that support humans in shared living spaces, it is extremely important to carry out further research. It is also necessary to promote interest in these robots among as many people as possible. I would like my research to continue to involve open collaborations with partners who share similar goals, such as those involved in international competitions, academic activities, joint research, and demonstration tests.
- Development of Human Support Robot as the research platform of a domestic mobile manipulator
- TMC Develops Independent Home-living-assistance Robot Prototype.
- Toyota Shifts Home Helper Robot R&D into High Gear with New Developer Community and Upgraded Prototype.
- Open source software (OSS) refers to software in which source code is made available for users to apply, study, modify, and distribute for any purpose.
- ISO/IEC 5230 is an international standard for open-source compliance. Toyota is the first company in the world to announce the adoption of ISO/IEC 5230 certification.
Contact Information (about this article)
Frontier Research Center