A real Iron Giant: baby steps for a South Korean-built manned robot

Agence France-Presse

Forget Honda’s ASIMO or Boston Dynamics’ Atlas – the newest ‘bot on the block is Method-2, a giant robot built in South Korea

Agence France-Presse |

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A pilot can sit inside Method-2 and control the arms and legs. Photo: Reuters

No, it’s not a Gundam (an advanced, high performance mobile suits found in the sci-fi anime Gundam series), it’s a giant manned robot that walks like a human but makes the ground shake under its weight – and it has taken its first baby steps in South Korea.

Designed by a veteran of science fiction blockbusters, the four-metre-tall, 1.5 tonne Method-2 towers over a room on the edge of Seoul. The huge human-like creation bears a striking resemblance to the military robots starring in the epic sci-fi movie Avatar.

It’s claimed as a world first by its creators at Hankook Mirae Technology, a South Korean robotics company, where about 30 engineers – most of them who are in their mid and late 30s – were hard at work conducting initial tests at the end of last year.

“Our robot is the world’s first manned bipedal robot and is built to work in extreme hazardous areas where humans cannot go [unprotected],” said company chairman Yang Jin-ho.

A pilot sitting inside the robot makes limb movements which are copied by Method-2, whose metal arms each weigh 130kg.

What can Method-2 be used for?

The robot, which is more than twice the size of a tall man, is so heavy that it shakes the ground when it takes a step.

Yang, who dreamed as a child of building his own robot, said he has invested 242 billion won (US$200 million) in the project since 2014 to “bring to life what only seemed possible in movies and cartoons”.

Method-2 is the biggest manned robot to be built to date.
Photo: Reuters

Building the giant robot was a challenge for the engineers, as its never-before-seen scale meant they had nothing to refer to.

It remains unclear how the robot will be used. Method-2 is seen more as a test-bed for future technologies that will allow the creators to build any type and size of robot in future.

While its enormous size has grabbed media attention, the creators of Method-2 say the project’s main achievement is the technology they developed and enhanced along the way.

“Everything we have been learning so far on this robot can be applied to solve real-world problems,” said designer Vitaly Bulgarov on his Facebook page. He has previously worked on film series such as Transformers, Robocop and Terminator.

Room to grow

Yang said they have already received inquiries from industries, from manufacturing and construction to entertainment.

There have even been questions about its possible deployment along the Demilitarized Zone with North Korea.

But the robot, tethered by a power cable and still a bit wobbly on its feet, is far from finished. More work is needed on its balance and power systems, according to its creators.

“The robot is one year old so it is taking baby steps,” Yang said. “Just like humans, it will be able to move more freely in the next couple of years.”

He said the robot will be ready for sale by the end of 2017 at a price of around 10 billion won.

Edited by Ginny Wong