Robots rising in Abu Dhabi

Pal Technology unveils Middle East's first ever humanoid robot in Abu Dhabi, Reem B promises greater autonomy and greater lift capacity than any other robot in development

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By  Mark Sutton Published  June 12, 2008

The Middle East got its first glimpse of the rise of the robots last night, with the launch of the UAE's first ever ‘home-grown' humanoid robot.

The Reem B robot was unveiled at a ceremony on the Reem Island construction site, where it showed off skills that a leading robotics expert says make it one of the most advanced robots in the world.

The 1.47 metre high, 60kg Reem B was developed by PAL Technology, part of Abu Dhabi's the Royal Group conglomerate, under the vision of Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed, the chairman of Royal Group.

The humanoid robot has been created as a general purpose service droid, which will eventually fulfill a range of tasks, although the developers stressed that it is a long way from commercial availability.

Reem B boasts the ability to recognize face, voice, and objects and to map and navigate its environment and also to lift up to 12kg. The robot has a two hour battery life, the longest for any autonomous robot in the world. The project team behind the robot, based in Spain, says that Reem B has a number of capabilities that make it unique in the field of robotics.

"Reem B is completely autonomous - its batteries, all computation, all the algorithms it uses are all on board," said Davide Faconti, project leader with Pal Technology. "It is one of the strongest - Asimo [Honda's humanoid robot] can lift a couple of kilos - Reem B can lift six times as much. The battery life is very large, and it is also the first humanoid robot to integrate mapping of buildings - Reem B knows where it is and where it is going."

Development of the robot has taken four years, and follows on from Reem A, a chess robot which was also created by PAL Technology. The robot uses some commercially available software for functions like face recognition, although most of the robotics functions, including walking, object manipulation and navigation have been developed in-house, Faconti said.

While Reem B is still a prototype, the team aims to develop the robot to make it suitable for a range of possible roles, including acting as tour guide, caring for elderly or sick and construction. Pal Technology is also considering making the robot commercially available to universities as a development platform for further robotics research.

Professor Noel Sharkey, professor of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics at the University of Sheffield, who attended the event as a guest of Pal Technology, said that the combination of technology in Reem B made it unique among today's humanoid robots.

"Reem B is still at the prototype stage, but all robots in world are prototypes at the moment. This [project] picks up on a lot of skills that other robots have, to make an interesting collection of skills - I would say it is probably among the top ten in the world," said Sharkey.

At the launch event, Pal Technology also announced a scholarship program, which will allow three students from Abu Dhabi Universities new robotics department to work with the Reem B team.

Reem B will also be putting in an appearance at the Intel Developer Conference in August, in part thanks to the fact that it is running Linux on Intel Core 2 Duo processors, along with AMD Geode processors.

See more pictures and specs over on the blog.

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