Mar. 17, 2015 | By Kira

Pop culture is full of terrifying and apocalyptic images of a future controlled by merciless and destructive robots, from the Terminator to the Matrix’s Sentinels. Yet one Japanese company wants to re-imagine and re-humanize robotic technology by introducing the irresistibly cute (and surprisingly functional) PLEN2, a customizable 3D printed humanoid robot, which has already raised more than $18,000 on Kickstarter.

An update of the original PLEN, launched in 2007 as “the high performance advanced programmable humanoid robot—for the man who has everything!”, PLEN2 is physically smaller and costs less than half the price of its $3,000 precedent. Like the original (which, interestingly, was named after the word “Plain” due to its sleek and simplistic design,) the PLEN2 can walk forwards and backwards, pick up small objects, roller skate, dance, kick, or drive around in its own ‘car’ (it looks like a futuristic wheelchair-pod). Advertised as the ‘mirror robot,’ the PLEN2 mimics human actions and can be used by everyone, from children to researchers, for any purpose: from pleasure, to educational and even medical situations. The fully-constructed robot is approximately 7.87 inches tall, weighs 21.16 oz, and has 18 joints for a high degree of maneuverability.

The real improvements, however, stem from the advanced, open-sourced software features and customizable, 3D printed hardware components. The robot kit itself consists of Arduino and ROS-compatible control boards, servomotors and accessories that can be assembled right out of the box by makers of all ages, regardless of their technical knowledge. 3D data for the main components will be available free of charge, meaning that 3D printer owners can easily customize the color and physical appearance of their PLEN, and the open-source, Arduino-compatible software means that even novice programmers can modify or ‘hack’ its program and specifications to meet their particular needs. Technical experts and researchers can also program with ROS middleware for fully-fledged robot development.

In terms of use, the PLEN2 features upgraded internal parts that allow users to control it via either a PC, smartphone application (available on both iOS and Android platforms), body movements, facial expressions, myeolectrics, and even brainwaves. This degree of customization available for its features, software and use make the PLEN2 an extremely adaptable tool. Children can play with it and simultaneously learn about robotics, 3D printing, and software programming, while physical rehabilitation patients can use PLEN2 to practice their movements and control in a medically supervised environment.

CEO and founder of PLEN Project Company Natsuo Akazawa, along with CTO Naohiro Hayaishi and Managing Partner Atsuhiko Tomita, have launched their product on Kickstarter in order to bring their dream of humanized-technlogy to life. So far, the campaign has raised an impressive $18,468 out of their $40,000 goal. If that figure is successfully reached, PLEN Project Company expects to ship their first batch of robot kits to backers in November 2015. The early-bird price for an assembly kit is set at $699, while the standard retail version will sell for $899.

According to Akazawa, the aim of building humanoid robots such as the PLEN2 is to open up the relationship between humans and technology: “we do not believe that robots should replace people, but that they should complement our abilities. We strongly believe that scientific technology can enrich everyone in society, if we embrace it in a positive manner.”


Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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