Reachy is a humanoid robot developed by a Bordeaux start-up, Pollen Robotics.
He has just distinguished himself by finishing second in a major international technology competition, allowing the company to pocket two million dollars.
This sum should allow the start-up to accelerate the development of its robot, in particular by improving the structure of the arm and therefore the manipulation of objects.
It's sitting at a table, dressed in his dark blue marinière, that Reachy is waiting for us this Friday.
He is going to show us how he succeeds in stacking wooden cubes.
Only a little over two years old, the humanoid robot from Pollen Robotics has not yet mastered all fine motor skills, and must be assisted by a human for the execution of certain gestures.
A Pollen Robotics employee puts on a virtual reality headset and uses cuffs to remotely manipulate Reachy's articulated arms.
After letting the cubes escape two or three times, the robot manages a nice pile of fives.
It may mean nothing to you, but to him it means a lot.
“Reachy would not be able, for example, to grab a pen lying on the table, almost excuses Matthieu Lapeyre, one of its two designers who co-founded the Bordeaux nugget Pollen Robotics with Pierre Rouanet in 2016. On the other hand, he knows how to make a perfect circle, which is difficult for humans.
Against competitors ten times more expensive
The two former researchers from Inria (National Institute for Research in Digital Science and Technology) are full of praise for their offspring, who have just won them two million dollars by finishing second in the prestigious international ANA Avatar XPrize competition. , a few weeks ago.
Even if it is true that Reachy had been a little "pimped" for the occasion.
"For this competition, objects weighing 3 kg had to be lifted, but Reachy's arm was previously limited to weights of 300 grams, so we accelerated the development of the arm that will equip the second generation of Reachy", explains Matthieu. Lapeyre.
Remotely piloted by independent judges, the 17 finalist robots of the X-Prize had to carry out a succession of tests, as quickly as possible.
"You had to open a door, navigate, weigh a gourd and place it in a specific place, then grab a screwdriver and dismantle a door, then grab some rough pebbles", lists Matthieu Lapeyre.
Faced with competitors from all over the world, marketed at a minimum of 250,000 dollars when Reachy is offered from 25,000 euros, the Bordeaux robot impressed the gallery, obtaining the maximum score of 15/15.
Slower than NimBro, the winner, he finished in second place.
Quite a performance for this new prototype, which had finished being assembled a fortnight earlier.
“Creating robots capable of adjusting to the unknown”
Basically, Reachy was just an arm, "and little by little we built the whole body around it", continues the researcher.
Mounted on wheels, the Reachy V1 saw the light of day just before CES 2020 in Las Vegas, where it was officially presented for the first time.
And where a wonderful welcome was reserved for him.
“It really launched Pollen, and we started to market it all over the world, to research labs or large companies looking to integrate robotics into their business.
In the world of robotics, a distinction must be made between robots evolving in industrial and logistics environments, "which are very structured environments with assembly lines made for robots", robots that can evolve "in open universes, social and unstructured.
“Basically, in a domestic universe to perform everyday tasks.
Which has nothing to do, because as soon as you take a robot out of an environment structured for it, "it immediately becomes much more complex, because it has to move on a ground that is not necessarily right, manipulate objects that are made for humans, come across a person... It is therefore necessary to be able to create robots capable of adjusting to the unknown, and to do this integrate much more artificial intelligence and analysis of the environment.
“Teleoperation feeds autonomy”
Even if it is programmed to perform a few gestures independently, the first step towards integrating robots like Reachy into social environments, and allowing them to perform complex tasks such as opening a drawer, picking up a utensil and close the drawer, goes through teleoperation, that is to say the control of the robot remotely.
"It's already very useful, because it saves the presence of a human being on site, he can thus carry out such and such a task remotely," comments Mathhieu Lapeyre.
I would liken it a bit to videoconferencing.
But above all, it makes it possible to retrieve information that will allow the robot to learn.
We will be able to analyze all the gestures made to make it more and more autonomous.
Teleoperation feeds autonomy.
Gradually, artificial intelligence will replace humans to control it, and will allow Reachy and its congeners to evolve more and more alone, "even this is not for now", warns the engineer.
But to do what exactly?
“The fields of application are numerous, assures Matthieu Lapeyre, this ranges from assistance to disabled or elderly people, to putting on the shelves in supermarkets, passing through accompaniment in stations, for example.
Manipulation is really the heart of what will make a robot useful, it's the most fundamental building block, and that's what we're working on.
Pollen Robotics actually focuses its efforts “on the structure of the arm, to create light and agile arms, which is important for adapting to changing environments, and for catching certain objects.
And as Reachy has local and ecological fiber, the arm is mainly produced in France, and relatively sober in terms of materials and energy consumption.
"The new version of the arm weighs 4 kg, and can lift as much, when industrial arms weigh 20 kg to lift the same thing", insists Matthieu Lapeyre.
In short, we expect Reachy to be able to replace humans for certain daily tasks.
And after the step of the wooden cubes, who knows if he will one day be able to string the beads...
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