And Finally

Best of breed

Tencent unveils its talented new ‘robo-dog’


Now go fetch

Four-legged Jamoca is a metre long and weighs in at 70kg – which doesn’t sound too different from a large dog like a Great Dane, to which it bears something of a resemblance.

But Jamoca is actually a product of Tencent’s Robotics X Lab and a proud passer of a key test in martial arts circles.

Jamoca has just succeeded in completing the ‘plum blossom piles’ test, navigating a series of vertical poles more typically sighted in training routines in martial arts films.

With diameters of 20cm and spaced no more than 50cm from one another at differing heights, the metal poles in this particular test posed a demanding challenge for the robot’s perception, planning and control – more so than anything allotted to other four-legged robots around the world, a spokesperson for the Tencent lab reckons.

Jamoca had to first complete an “accurate analysis”, that developed a visual model of the arrangement of the poles within a 1cm margin of error. The next stage was “skilful selection” in which it planned the safest and most efficient path forward in just 10 milliseconds. The final step is to have a “stable trajectory” on the journey, which Jamoca managed to achieve with torque control reaching 1kHz.

“Under this combined challenge, Jamoca must understand the arrangement of the plum blossom piles, choose the best footing point and route, and walk steadily and accurately,” noted Jiqizhixin, a Shanghai-based news portal, approvingly.

Netizens have already been proposing uses for the blossom-balancing champion. “Use [Jamoca] as a guide dog for the blind,” one recommended (China has remarkably few active guide dogs – when we first wrote on the topic in 2016 there were only 12 such dogs in the entire city of Beijing; see WiC315).

“It should help carry goods up and down stairs for old folks in buildings without lifts,” proposed another.

Presented alongside Jamoca, the lab rolled out another white-shelled robot with two black wheels, resembling a small motorbike. The rotation of a front handle keeps the robot balanced as it moves, while torque equilibrium keeps it steady when it is stationary.

This robot model is being billed as an ‘Autonomous Bicycle’ – suggesting it could be deployed in future to transport people along city streets. It makes smooth turns to avoid obstacles, navigates slopes and small bumps without incident, and even maintains its balance when hit by external objects.

Established in 2018, the Tencent Robotics X Lab talks proudly about ushering in the next generation of robotics research.

In pursuit of its goals it has been collaborating with Tencent’s AI Lab to incorporate artificial intelligence into new designs. Zhang Zhengyou – the director of both the Robotics X unit and the AI Lab – was suitably upbeat on the progress being made. “We will continue to probe into the potential of robotics, which will build a powerful bridge between the real and artificial worlds,” he promised.

Neither of the experimental robots are for sale.

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