Murata Demonstrates Unicycling Robot

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Murata Manufacturing might not be a household name, but the Kyoto-based company is high-up on the list of most visitors coming to the Ceatec electronics show that opened here on Tuesday.

The sensor and component manufacturer has been a popular attraction at Ceatec in recent years, thanks to its half-meter high Murata Boy robot that rides a bicycle, managing to maintain balance and move forward at the same time. This year there's a new face on the stage: Seiko, a robot that does much the same trick on a single wheel.

In a demonstration here it was brought on stage by an engineer who gently placed it down and into a position where is was close to balanced. The engineer moved his hands away slowly to make sure the robot could maintain this balance, and then moved himself away.

The robot managed to stay upright while constantly making small movements backwards and forwards on the spot -- much like a human on a unicycle keeps balance.

It then proceeded to slowly move backwards and forwards in a straight line.

The stage show appeared to impress the crowd of roughly 100 people who gathered to see the first performance of the day, just after Ceatec opened. One robot researcher from a rival company, who didn't want to be named, said the demonstration was impressive but would have been more so had the robot been able to move in a curved course rather than just in a straight line. From an engineering point of view its much harder for a unicycling robot to keep balance when performing such a trick, he said.

Like Murata Boy, Seiko was developed by the company as a platform to show off the company's components.

Inside the robot's body are two gyroscopes. One helps keep the robot from falling sideways and the second does the same job with forwards and backwards movement. This is a doubling of the inside of the bicycling robot, which only had to worry about maintaining balance sideways.

An ultrasonic sensor helps the robot maintain a distance from objects in its path and a Bluetooth module handles communications. It's also fitted with a camera that sends live video.

The unicycling robot is about the same height as Murata Boy and it weighs about 5 kilograms (11 pounds).

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