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ATIP Reports - ATIP Reports: 2003

ATIP03.041: Humanoid Robotics Project



Copyright © 1995-2009 by the Asian Technology Information Program (ATIP).

This material may not be published, modified, or otherwise redistributed in whole or in part, in any form, without prior approval by ATIP, which reserves all rights.



ABSTRACT: Japan is well-known for its high level of technology in both industrial robotics and more recently entertainment robotics. In an effort to address two ongoing problems facing Japanese society, namely the ageing of Japanese society and recurrent natural disasters, the Japanese government is hoping to adapt and enhance the country’s robotics expertise by developing anthropomorphic robots to assist humans in these situations and others. This report details one major project known as the Humanoid Robot Project sponsored by the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) to develop “Humanoid and Human Friendly Robotics Systems”.

KEYWORDS: Government Policy on Science and Technology, Robotics


DATE : 15 Jul 2003



1. Introduction

Executive Summary

2. Background

3. participants

4. Development of humanoid robot platform

5. applications

6. continuing research

7. conclusions

8. weblinks and contacts

9. references

Japan, a country known for its mechanical engineering prowess and expertise in robotics, has begun to focus its attention in an area previously only portrayed in science fiction movies and novels. This area is the automation of laborious, dangerous or even everyday mundane tasks through the application of human-friendly anthropomorphic robots. One factor in particular which is driving this new research is the ageing of Japanese society. The proportion of the aged population will double from 10 to 20 per cent in less than 25 years. In contrast, most European countries took more than 50 years to reach the same level of demographics (Ogawa and Retherford 1993a). The government foresees the need for functional robots which will be able to nurse and care for the aged and infirm. Due to a forthcoming shortage in the workforce the government is also hoping for the development of robots to perform personal services for people to help them with their everyday lives. Additionally, these robots will be used for home and building construction, maintenance of plants and power stations, security and crime prevention and human rescue in disaster situations. This report outlines a large-scale ongoing Japanese government-sponsored research effort known as the “Humanoid Robotics Project”. Additional discussions of recent robotics research in the area of “Rescue Robotics” may be found in ATIP03.003 : Rescue Robots in Japan: University Research.

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ATIP03.041 (continued): Humanoid Robotics Project 

Copyright © 1995-2009 by the Asian Technology Information Program (ATIP).

This material may not be published, modified, or otherwise redistributed in whole or in part, in any form, without prior approval by ATIP, which reserves all rights.

       Japanese government is facing dual problems of ageing of Japanese society and recurrent natural disasters. In 1998, the Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry (METI) started to promote research and development of “Humanoid and Human Friendly Robotics Systems”. From 1998-2003 NEDO provided USD 40.5M for the Humanoid Robotics Project.

       Humanoid Robotics Project (HRP) strives to develop anthropomorphic robots that can interact successfully within human society through assistance in labor-intensive tasks, everyday chores, as well on a higher social level.

       Participation in the HRP project involves 12 industry research groups and 11 public and private University research groups.

       HRP consists of two efforts; (1) development of a common robot technology platform and (2) application of this platform to human assistance tasks.

       Applications developed included; housing and building construction, operation of industrial vehicles, personal care service, building and home management, plant maintenance.

       Humanoid Robotics Project has clearly shown the feasibility of producing stable bipedal walking robots in a natural human environment.

       Recent versions of the HRP platform have shown a capability for robots to interact with humans to assist in mundane tasks.

       Presently practical applications are few especially when cost/performance values are considered.

       Most promising areas for immediate application are disaster relief and assistance, demolition or hazardous waste disposal.

       Allure of agile anthropomorphic robots which can interact in a normal human infrastructure will continue to be irresistible to university researchers, industry, and most likely, Japanese government funding agencies.


Although the level of technology for anthropomorphic human friendly robots is still far from being applicable to everyday life, certain applications such as disaster relief and assistance, demolition, or hazardous waste disposal are very promising. In these areas due to the life threatening environment, the price/performance levels of these machines may be acceptable. Additionally, the lure of research and development of human-like robots will continue to fuel research interest and Japanese government and industry funding for the foreseeable future.

Starting in fiscal year 1998, the Japanese Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry (METI) started to promote research and development of “Humanoid and Human Friendly Robotics System“ as one of its key projects within the Industrial Science and Frontier Program (ISTF). The Japan Manufacturing and Technology Science Center (MTSC) was entrusted to carry out this project under the guidance of the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO).

The research and development project covering “Humanoid and Human Friendly Robotics Systems“ formally became known as the Humanoid Robotics Project (HRP). This project strives to develop robots which can interact successfully within human society through assistance in labor-intensive tasks, everyday chores, as well on a higher social level. Specifically, robots were to be developed which could execute complicated work and could move flexibly through various geographical terrains by means of remote control with communication networks, while at the same time harmonizing and coexisting with human beings.

The original HRP Project was funded by NEDO from 1996-2003 and was broken into two stages. In the first stage, which ran from 1996-1998, US$500K was provided for leading research on the Friendly Network Robotics Project. The project aimed to develop technologies for making human friendly robots that can provide services to humans in homes, offices, hospitals, etc. The research agenda included; mechanisms for human friendly robotics, human-robot collaborative control methods, distributed intelligence technologies and mind-network tele-robotics technologies. As in many Japanese research projects, this phase was really designed to provide a lead-in to a larger follow-on effort.

In the second stage, which lasted from 1998-2003 and was broken into two terms, NEDO provided US$40M to develop the hardware and software for the HRP. During the first term, the aim was to develop a common platform to integrate various component technologies previously realized by industry, academia, government, and to assess the most advanced technologies. As a side note, this was the first time such an approach was applied by ISTF, but due to its success it has become the new paradigm for promoting cooperation in the development of new technologies. The second term lasted three years from 2000-2003 and involved research related to the application field where utilization of the humanoid and human friendly robot is expected. Here, improvement and supplementation of various kinds of component technologies were performed on the platform which had been developed in the first term.

Participation in the HRP project involved 12 industry research groups and 11 public and private University research groups (see below). The industry groups were centered on five different application areas which are discussed in Section 5. They are as follows;

a)    Construction assistance - Kawada Industries Inc, Shimizu Corporation,Yaskawa Electric Corporation

b)    Operation of industrial vehicles - Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd., Tokyu Construction Co, Ltd.

c)     Personal Care service - Hitachi, Ltd., Matsushita Electric Works Ltd.

d)    Building and home management - Fujitsu Ltd., Sogo Keibi Hosho Co,Ltd. And

e)    Plant maintenance - Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Co,Ltd.

Industry Participants

Fanuc Ltd.

Fujitsu Ltd.

Hitachi, Ltd.

Honda Motor Co.,Ltd.

Kawada Industries Inc.

Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd.

Matsushita Electric Works Ltd.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Co,Ltd.

Shimizu Corporation

Sogo Keibi Hosho Co,Ltd.

Tokyu Construction Co,Ltd

Yaskawa Electric Corporation

Academic Participants

Hiroshima City Univ. (Asada Lab.)

S Kyoto Univ. (Osuka Lab.)

E Kyoto Univ. (Yoshikawa - Yokokoji Lab.)

Osaka Univ. (Arai Lab.)

Tohoku Univ. (Uchiyama Lab.)

Tokyo Institute of Technology

Tsukuba Univ. (Sankai Lab.)

Univ. of Tokyo (Ikeuchi Lab.)

Univ. of Tokyo (Nakamura Lab.)

Univ. of Tokyo (Tachi Lab.)

Waseda Univ. (Humanoid Robotics Institute)

The actual development of hardware and software began in 1998 and is still continuing today. The platform development can be broken into five major tasks as outlined below.

Software: Microsoft Office

HRP-1 (Source: Japan MSTC)

(1) Production of a robot platform

The goal of this project was to produce the hardware portion of a human friendly robotics system with a high degree of safety and reliability. The first generation robot, known as HRP-1 is 160 cm in height and 60cm in width, with a weight of 99kg. The HRP-1 can propel itself using bipedal motion at speeds of up to 2km/h within a 2cm path deviation. Additionally, it can ascend and descend stairs with a 20cm height per step. Finally, the HRP-1 is capable of lifting an object of 10kg from the ground using its two arms. For body motion control, the HRP-1 uses an Intel Pentium III 850Mhz, 512MB RAM and 128MB compact flash. Additionally, it employs a Honda I/O board, 11Mbps wireless LAN and 100 Mbps wired LAN connections.

Development of HRP Platform (Source: Japan MSTC)


(2) Research and Development of an Intelligent hand

A high-performance hand was developed to enable the robot to grasp objects firmly yet flexibly. The hand includes actuators with 12 axes of freedom, a touch sensor and a force sensor. It also has four fingers and can grasp and lift an object of 2kg weight.

Intelligent Hand (Source: Japan MSTC)

(3) Humanoid robot platform HRP-2

The HRP-2 platform is the second generation humanoid robot platform (see figure above). The design concept of HRP-2 is light and compact, but performable for application tasks such as cooperative work with a human. The HRP-2 robot has height, width and depth of 154 cm, 62cm, 35.4cm, respectively, and a weight of 58kg. It has 30 DOF, a 2.0 km/h bipedal walking speed and a 6kg lifting capacity. HRP-2 has unique design features including a cantilever type hip joint a double jointed wrist.

(4) Development of a remote control cockpit platform

A remote control cockpit has been developed to unify several control functions including; generation of feedback to the operator to add a heightened degree of reality to his sense of sight, hearing, force and touch, inputting operation instructions, and communications.

(5) Development of a virtual robot platform

This software system is composed of a dynamic simulator and a library of the basic operations. This is an ongoing effort to develop a total system that supports research, design, and development of the control system for humanoid robots. The software can be downloaded and also utilized through the Internet.

Housing and Building Construction

In a construction environment, there are many chores that are carried out by a pair of an expert and a novice. The humanoid robot HRP-2 has been developed with a biped locomotion controller, stereo vision software and aural human interface to achieve cooperative work by a human and a humanoid robot. HRP-2 can find a target by a three-dimensional vision system, and carry it cooperatively with a human using biped locomotion according to the voice commands given by the human. Cooperative control is applied to the arms of the robot while it carries the object, and the walking direction of the robot is controlled by interactive force and torque through the force/torque sensor on the wrist. HRP-2 control algorithms enable the robot to walk on an uneven surface and it possesses shock absorbing mechanisms and motion control that reduce damage when tipping and falling. The robot also is able to right itself after having fallen.

HRP-2 Assisting in construction tasks (Source: Japan MSTC)

Operation of Industrial Vehicles

This is the first successful trial in the world to remotely control a humanoid robot so as to drive industrial vehicles (backhoe and forklift truck) in lieu of a human operator. These results were achieved through to the development of the following three technologies: (l) "remote control technology" for instructing the humanoid robot to perform body movements from an offsite location and a "portable remote control system" for executing remote control tasks; (2) "protection technology" for protecting the humanoid robot against shock and vibrations of its operating seat and against the influences of the surrounding environment such as rain and dust; and (3) "full-body operation control technology" for controlling the humanoid robot's total body movements with autonomous control capability to prevent the robot from falling over.

HRP-1S Operating backhoe (Source: Japan MSTC)

Personal Care Service

Social trends characterized by the advent of the aging society, the increase in the number of people requiring long-term care, and the declining birth rate have resulted in a labor shortage of workers in the field of long-term care. This in turn has led to a growing demand in hospitals, care facilities, and other situations for long-term care support in the form of humanoid robots that offer a high degree of affinity with humans. Such robots may serve to lessen the burden on long-term care workers, and enable patients to receive care without feeling that they are placing such a burden on others. Focusing on applications in this field, and using the HRP-1S, this research developed an extended task library that enabled simple planning of complex operations required for walking and arm movement, as well as compact, easy-to-use remote operation equipment and a conversation agent to support communications with a wide range of users. The conversation agent allows communications support by voice conversation and execution of work according to the situational environment. Additionally, it provides gesture and facial expression control of the robot that matches it to the content of the conversation. In doing so, a system that enables high-level complicated robots to be operated easily even by non-specialists has been created.

Software: Microsoft Office

HRP-1 Greeting patient and giving physical exercise instructions

(Source: Japan MSTC)

Building and Home Management

The aim of this research is to develop robot hardware and software that result in a sentry in a building for security functions or a housekeeper doing simple tasks such as checking the locks or turning on/off of the switches in a house. In this application area, there is a strong need for humanoid robots because of their suitability in a human living environment.

A remote control system that instructs the robot to work from outside the house via the Internet by using Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) or mobile phones has been developed.

This remote control system enables the robot to do routines autonomously and enables the user to control the robot manually according to the situation in the room by viewing streaming images from the robot's camera. The system also has capability to detect a person going into the room and to send emergency information to the user's mobile phone.

HRP-1 Turning off gas range (Source: Japan MSTC)

Remote control of HRP-1 via PDA and cell phone (Source: Japan MSTC)

Plant Maintenance

A humanoid robot can maintain and inspect equipment such as factories and power plants during their operation. Since the robot can maintain the equipment and carry on the hazardous work without suspending operation this will result in an extension of operational lifetime and less plant downtime. An IC Tag guidance navigation system has been developed. Additionally, robot movement on an unusual inspection route by the simple remote teaching with visual information and the rapid valve operation by visual feedback has been achieved.

HRP-1 Turning off valve in power plant mock-up (Source: Japan MSTC)

The humanoid robot "HRP-2" and the software platform "Open HRP" developed by the HRP are expected to be utilized in the future as the basis of R&D for the Humanoid Robot Project. Using these platforms, even newcomers to this project should be able to rapidly come up to speed and focus on developing applied technologies.

The HRP-3 project has recently been announced by NEDO as a continuation of the HRP project. This will be an effort for real world application of the platform which has been developed thus far. Real world applications cited include; entertainment robots, care service robots, dismantling of incinerators, disposal of hazardous objects, rescue work at a disaster scene, tunnel excavation, etc.

It is felt that applications in the fields of entertainment and hazardous environments will be utilized first due to the cost/performance ratios for the current state of the technology.

The HRP Project Leader, Prof. Hirochika Inoue of the University of Tokyo, has stated that in the future "I want to interlock the motion of hands and legs during walking, to raise the capability of the upper half of the body, and to strengthen cooperative operation of the whole body.

Additionally, Prof. Inoue has explained the necessity for the further research and development toward suitability in communal life with humans such as equipping the robot with a soft coating to look more “human-like” and also provide cushioning during falls.

The Humanoid Robotics Project has clearly shown the feasibility of producing stable bipedal walking robots in a natural human environment. Moreover, later versions of the HRP platform, such as the HRP-2, have shown a capability for robots to interact with humans on a natural everyday level although they are somewhat limited to mundane tasks. The research, although promising and impressive is still a long way from practical applications especially when cost/performance values are considered. However, the allure of agile anthropomorphic robots that can interact in a normal human infrastructure will continue to be irresistible to university researchers, industry and most likely Japanese government funding agencies as well. The most promising areas for immediate application are extremely dangerous tasks where human life is in jeopardy, such as disaster relief and assistance, demolition or hazardous waste disposal. Interest and research in these areas will continue to grow especially in light of current world events.

For additional questions regarding the present report, please contact:

Dr. Victor G. Stickel

Technology Analyst

Asian Technology Information Program (ATIP)

Harks Roppongi Bldg. 1F, 6-15-21 Roppongi

Minato-ku, Tokyo, 106-0032 Japan

Tel: +81 3 5411-6670; Fax: +81 3 5411-6671

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Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI)


New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) http://www.nedo.go.jp/english/index.html

Manufacturing Science and Technology Center (MSTC)


Ogawa, Naohiro and Robert D. Retherford (1993a), ‘The Resumption of Fertility

Decline in Japan, 1973-1992, Population Development Review, Vol. 19,

No. 4, 703-741.