In short: Robots designed by Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) could soon be accomplishing tasks as precise as hanging drywall, based on recently spotted footage posted to YouTube by the institution. The video, centered around a robot designated as the HRP-5P, shows the humanoid robot walking through each step of that particular process with relative ease. With the framework for a wall already in place and drywall stacked on a nearby table, the robot starts by assessing the situation before proceeding to carefully pick up a sheet of the material for hanging. It accomplishes that with a hooked portion on its 'hands' before lining the drywall up and picking up a drill to precisely fix the sheet to the frame.
Background: While the market for robotics has been steadily expanding for several decades, Japan's efforts in that space have consistently outpaced most, if not all, of the rest of the world. For example, a group of scientists from the region released video showing stable lab-created living muscle tissue in June, meant to give robots a more natural full range of motion. The country's researchers also recently worked to use the technology as a way to offset personnel shortages in the healthcare industry. Like this latest piece of footage, those latter robots will go beyond the simplistic actions ordinarily associated with modern robots and enable a more comprehensive suite of capabilities. But that will be effectively limited to tasks that assist nurses. The latest technology, on the other hand, appears more widely engineered to perform precision tasks associated with construction and infrastructure building.
Impact: Whether or not HRP-5p or some derivative of that can eventually enter into the commercial or enterprise markets remains to be seen. Bearing that in mind, this is a relatively big step forward from the pre-programmed assembly arms and similar robots that have been used in industrial environments in the past. It's similar to concepts that have been in the works from Boston Dynamics for several years now. However, that company's robotics have seemed to mostly center around shipping and warehouse functions while HRP-5P could essentially be used more broadly in real-world environments at construction or building repair sites. More succinctly, setting aside concerns about job displacement issues and the narrow constraints set by the new video, this concept could have implications across a huge swath of the manual labor industry.