Hubo, a life-size walking bipedal humanoid robot, is perhaps the best-known character in Korea that KAIST has ever produced. It was shown to the government heads of the Asia-Pacific region during the APEC held in Busan, Korea, in 2005 and appeared at the hit concerts of the pop singer Jang-Hoon Kim. The humanoid robot is soon likely to catch the fancy of Americans as a U.S. government-funded project seeks to create a Hubo that can work and interact with people in collaboration with Korean scientists.
"We are going to give the brains to Hubo. (Japanese) Asimo can do only pre-programmed actions. We want to create a Hubo that can help people, interact with people," said Prof. Paul Oh of the Department of Mechanical Engineering & Mechanics at Drexel University in Philadelphia and leader of the five-year international project which was launched in November 2007.
The U.S.$2.5 million project is funded through the Partnership for International Research and Education (PIRE) Program of the National Science Foundation (NSF) of the United States. It brings together world-renowned experts in humanoid design and information technologies.
"Dr. Jun-Ho Oh"s lab at KAIST (that has created Hubo) is the world"s leader in humanoid design and the U.S. has advanced technologies in the areas such as artificial intelligence, mechanical learning and robot vision. Combining the strengths of the two countries can create a synergy effect and develop a more advanced humanoid robot," said Paul Oh. He is currently serving as Program Director of Robotics of the NSF which is overseeing robotics research (non-military) in the U.S. consisting over 150 robotics faculty.
Paul Oh"s research team consists of experts from five U.S. universities -- Drexel, Bryn Mawr College, Colby College, the University of Pennsylvania and Virginia Tech -- and KAIST.
Leading a delegation of six professors and eight students, Dr. Paul Oh made a two-day visit to KAIST on Nov. 18-19 to review the progress of the project and have a technical meeting with participants.
"The U.S. universities participating in this program are scattered across the nation. So we decided to have a technical meeting here in Korea," he said.
Asked the reason why he chose KAIST as a partner for the program, Dr. Oh said that KAIST is willing to open Hugo to international researchers, whereas in Japan only Honda engineers are allowed to touch Asimo, which is a humanoid robot created by Honda Motor Company.
The project is to establish no barrier for roboticists anywhere in the world to pursue the humanoid research; a suite of humanoid platforms will be available for researchers to develop and advance capabilities like locomotion and human-robot interaction.
The team has been initially involved in development of three tools, all of which are based on the Hubo platform, in order to kick-start humanoid research in the U.S. They are the Mini-Hubo (a small, light-weight and affordable humanoid purchasable at the price lower than $8,000), On-Line Hubo (a program to operate Hubo online) and Virtual Hubo (a simulation program to do researches in cyberspace). As the first outcome of the project, the Mini-Hubo is expected to be released in the U.S. around next April.
Another important purpose of the PIRE program is to seek transformative models to train scientists and engineers to effectively work in global multi-disciplined design teams. To this end, an aggregate number of 20 students from U.S. universities are to stay at the KAIST during the next five years, with two students taking turns on a six-month term.
"I was really amazed how much work is done with small funding here. This is really an excellent example to learn," said Roy Gross, an undergraduate from Drexel who has been staying at Prof. Oh"s Lab for the past three months.