Cute, sweater-wearing android can help carry heavier objects

Whenever I write about robots, I cannot help but think about all the horror scenarios that I’ve seen in sci-fi movies and TV shows when they become our overlords after overthrowing abusive humans. But obviously, not all robots are scary in reality or at least we haven’t reached that point yet. There are also some cute and cuddly robots out there, both in pop culture and in real life. This new innovation from Toyota belongs to that latter category but it combines both hard and soft robotics.

Designer: Toyota

Punyo is the newest robot from Toyota but instead of looking like your typical robots that carry heavy things for us, it looks more like that adorable Baymax from Disney’s Big Hero 6. It’s even wearing a “sweater” that is actually functional as it actually enhances the robot’s capability to carry various things. Normally, robots just use their hands and their claw-like “fingers” but Punyo uses its chest, hips, arms – its entire body actually) to lift objects. This means it is able to carry heavier objects since it uses whole-body manipulation.

The arms of Punyo are made of air-filled bladders that can interact with different kinds of objects. Instead of the usual grippers we see on robots’ hands, there are high-friction latex bubbles as its “paws”. There are even internal cameras that are able to estimate the force that it needs to exert to carry whatever object it is holding. Inside the “sweater”, there are the usual robotic parts like rigid arms, a torso frame, and a waist actuator.

The name Punyo actually comes from the Japanese concept of “softness, cuteness, and resilience”. Combining the soft and hard robotics, as well as using teleoperation and artificial intelligence learning processes to train the android, gives us a holistic kind of robot that will not scare us but instead will be a helpful and friendly companion when it eventually becomes mass-produced. Hopefully, they will not be cute robot overlords.