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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Meet the lifeguard of the future

 The days of human lifeguards watching over us on the beach are numbered.

Or at least they will be if the Japanese have got anything to do with it.

Researchers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology have unveiled a new robot modelled on Olympic athletes that could be the lifeguard of the future.

They are currently working on a prototype that can mimic a human swimmer’s whole body motion.

The robot, nicknamed Swumanoid, can swim front crawl at a speed of 0.64 metres per second, just a third of the human world record, as well as backstroke and butterfly.

It will need a new pair of legs before it attempts breast stroke, however.

Swumanoid is intended to measure water resistance and analyse how people swim rather than using humans who would get tired of repeatedly doing the same stroke.

The data collected is intended to help find patterns that can improve a swimmer’s technique.

The team behind the creation, led by associate professor Motomu Nakashima, hopes that, in the future, robots like Swumanoid can act as lifeguards, patrolling the shores and helping swimmers in distress.

Professor Nakashima said: ‘Since it's a swimming humanoid, it will be able to help people who face danger out in the water, I believe this may be possible in the future.

‘The first purpose of the robot is to measure the energy output of swimmers.'

The engineers developed the body of the robot by using a 3D scanner to scan an unknown Olympic athlete, before creating a plastic version that can be produced in virtually any size.

But the robot is a long way off from taking up the role of David Hasselhoff in Baywatch – endurance, output and waterproofing are still issues with the design.

 Chang-Hyun Chung, a researcher at the institute, hopes to solve some of these problems in the coming weeks.

He said: ‘We want to use a bigger motor to gain more power, as right now, the motor’s power is not enough.’

Mr Nakashima was quick to point out that he won't be creating Arnold Swartzenegger's iconic Terminator just yet, ‘It's not quite strong enough to be a Terminator just yet, I think we're completely fine for a while.’

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