Toyota’s ceiling-mounted robot.
Let’s zoom in on the base. There is a HUGE aluminum cage holding this thing up. The base can move on one axis within the big beam it lives in, and the beam can move along the other axis along the cage. Note the cable chain on the right, carrying wires to a remote location. It doesn’t need batteries.
Toyota imagines designing a house from scratch with a ceiling robot in mind, but for this test setup, it used beefy aluminum uprights going to the ground.
Oh, it’s you.
There’s a swiffer arm and a gripper, like this.
Toyota did originally make a normal, upright, rolling bot, but the base needed to be huge to carry batteries and computing power.
Today, home robots mostly consist of a little puck-shaped vacuum that can bump around your house picking up debris. But someday, maybe, we’ll have bigger, more advanced robots that can clean up more than just our floors. Roboticists are still figuring out what these types of robots are supposed to look like, and one wild concept from the Toyota Research Institute is a “gantry robot” that lives on your ceiling. It looks like a slightly less evil version of GLaDOS.
Rather than move around on the floor, Toyota’s gantry robot can “descend from an overhead framework” when it’s time for some cleaning. The company’s idea is that “by traveling on the ceiling, the robot avoids the problems of navigating household floor clutter and navigating cramped spaces.”
Getting a human-sized robot to actually live on the ceiling looks like a complicated and expensive proposition. Toyota’s system uses an extremely beefy aluminum extrusion cage that covers the entire ceiling of the test house. The robot lives on a room-width horizontal beam that can move along the cage on the perimeter of the house—we’ll call this the Y-axis—and then the robot can move left and right along the beam for the X-axis. The whole setup is basically a giant cartesian coordinate CNC machine. No one is expected to build this into an existing house, but Toyota’s idea is “what if, in the future, we could design homes to accommodate robotic solutions?”
When it’s time to get some work done, a network of joints lets the robot descend from the ceiling. Toyota is teaching the bot tasks in VR using a Valve Index, where it can learn from examples given by the six-axis controller. The robot seems to have a few different hand styles and can load a dishwasher, pick up clutter, and wipe down objects. It can even wipe down something as fragile as a television without knocking it over or otherwise destroying it. You can watch the robot do its thing at around 27 minutes into Toyota’s unfortunately very bandwidth-intensive, 4K 360 video.
Toyota did originally build this robot in a traditional, stand-up form factor that rolled around the floor, but the space required for things like batteries and computers made the base about as big as a mini-fridge. Many house layouts would not allow a robot that wide to move around (especially in Japan), so Toyota came up with this ceiling-mounted solution. A rolling robot needs to be completely portable and battery-powered so it doesn’t wrap your house in wires, but a ceiling robot does not. Since CNC machines only have a set X and Y movement, they can be constantly plugged in and manage wires with a cable chain. This means size and power is not really an issue for a robot, since you can offload the bigger components anywhere and just run wires to the main robot. And you can skip the batteries and have an infinite runtime thanks to always being plugged in.
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