Japanese Robots: Celebrating the Life of Dr. Kanako Miura

Kanako Miura - AkihabaraNews.com

Today, per the Japanese tradition of marking the one year anniversary of an individual's death, known as the Meinichi (めいにち・命日), we remember the life and accomplishments of brilliant young roboticist Dr. Kanako Miura, lost in a terrible accident one year ago today. Our original article was published May 29, 2013. 

• • •

While riding her bike on Sunday, May 19th, at approximately 3:30pm, highly accomplished and well regarded robotics researcher Dr. Kanako Miura was struck by a large truck near Charlesgate Park in the Fenway-Kenmore neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts. Dr. Miura, 36, died at the scene. Official reports conclude that it was simply a terrible accident on a busy road.

Dr. Kanako Miura, Roboticist 
A guest of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Dr. Miura arrived last October for what was planned to be year of research at the world-class MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). She had been invited to share her pioneering work on improving the understanding of human bipedal locomotion and applying that practical knowledge to advanced humanoids, i.e., Dr. Miura made robots that walk like us.

“She was really part of the fabric of our group. She was not just a visitor in our group, she became a close friend and a member of our family. The energy she brought to her work was contagious, and her enthusiasm was easy to see. She loved giving tours, and showing off the lab, and she had an unfailing optimism in the future and importance of humanoid robots.” 
-Professor Russ Tedrake, Director; Center for Robotics, CSAIL

Dr. Miura held a B.E. in Aerospace Engineering and an M.E. and Ph.D. in Information Science from prestigious Tohoku University. She also earned an additional Ph.D. in Electronics and Automation from equally renowned Université Louis-Pasteur in 2004. Such certifications alone evidence a formidable intellect; factoring in the linguistic challenges between Japanese, French, and English – well, that pushes the dial up a bit further.

The considerable expertise Dr. Miura brought to MIT arose from post-doctoral research at Tohoku University, a subsequent research position with communications giant NTT Docomo, and her eventual ascent to senior researcher at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) in the Intelligent Systems Research Institute’s Humanoid Robotics Department.

While at AIST, Dr. Miura worked on the world-famous HRP-4C Future Dream robot (nicknamed “Miim,” from the Japanese). You might not know the name, but chances are you’ve seen photos or video of the agile and strikingly human robot:

HRP-4C has also “met” with the highest levels of foreign government:

With the above robot as the platform and Dr. Miura as the lead researcher, the AIST team made several valuable and distinct contributions to mobility and agility in humanoid robotics. The video below, for example, demonstrates the “slip turn” motion. “Slip turn” is very human-like movement that allows a biped to rapidly change direction with minimal change in body orientation. How is this an advancement? Well, think about the baby steps a robot like ASIMO has to take when changing direction, as opposed to this:

Another project led by Dr. Miura was the development of a more human-like gait for bipedal robots. When we walk, movement in the pelvis precipitates and works in conjunction with movement in the knees. A natural human step ends with the back foot balancing and pushing off the toe, and this leads to the standard leg-swing motion of the human stride. Here’s that recreated in robot form – and again, sorry ASIMO, but your flat-footed shuffling must yield:

Dr. Miura also led a project that would allow a robot to mimic human movement based on motion capture technology.

After contributing so much to her field, in addition to eventually being courted for the year of study and collaboration at MIT, she was also recognized here at home with the 2010 AIST President Award:

Such is the noble reality of robotics research. No single person can crank out a perfect human facsimile, and there are no Tony Starks – there are researchers like Dr. Miura, diligently working through small but profound iterations and laying the foundation for generations of robotics research to follow.

Unfortunately, no one at AkihabaraNews or Anthrobotic.com knew or had ever met Dr. Miura. However, through the words of Professor Tedrake and other public and private discussions, it is easy to appreciate that she was not only a brilliant and motivated scholar, but also a warm and engaging person. How we wish to have had the pleasure of interacting with such a comprehensive intellect.

Though something small, we hope it a fitting memorial to share her work here. That awareness of her contributions might inspire others toward learning about robotics, engineering, or science of any kind, is a fitting legacy.

Seems safe to assume she’d agree.

• • •

Materials & Resources:
Boston Police Twitter; Boston Police Department; Universal Hub; Boston.com; MIT News; CSAIL Computer Science and AI Laboratory News; IsolateCyclist Blog; Fenway-Kenmore Patch; Worldjournal.com (Chinese); IT Media (Japanese/日本語)

Photos: LinkedIn; AIST; The White House


Related Articles

...but Some Things, Once Seen, Must be Shared
Here at AkihabaraNews, we’ve dedicated thousands of hours to bringing you the best Japanese robotics coverage on the internets. Though our tone is occasionally irreverent, we take the topic quite seriously, and every robotics piece we publish has been thoroughly researched, correlated, connected, and responsibly journalismed.

Yoriko Takahashi - March 19, 2014

Samurai-style battle robot SAMURAIBORG will be out from Takara Tomy on April 19.

ATLAS Robot Unboxing - DARPA Robotics Challenge

Ohhh boy, an unboxing video that’s not just filler, but 500% justifiable.

Aerial drone maps show Philippine typhoon devastation, aid in reconstruction - AkihabaraNews.com

The following article, by Adam Klaptocz of Drone Adventures, is republished here with permission from our friends at Robohub.org.

• • •

Yoriko Takahashi - June 11, 2015

Honda’s given us all a chance to satisfy the desire to build our very own ASIMO. It’s a great project for all ages, particularly for children with a budding interest in robotics.
At Keio University, the Imai Laboratory, in the Department of Information and Computer Science (Faculty of Science and Technology), is doing three research projects to make communication easier.
Japanese Robots: Jiro Aizawa, the Father of Toy Robots - AkihabaraNews.com

Probable Source of Humanity's Image of ‘Toy Robot’
Jiro Aizawa, born 1903, is very significant in terms of Japan's history of robots, toy robots in particular. He is also known as Dr. Aizawa, Uncle Robot, Dr. Robot, Zirou Aizawa, Dr. Aizawa Zirou, and 二郎相澤 in Japanese.


The high-end model of iRobot's cleaning robot "Roomba 780" will be available in 5 limited edition colors ONLY in Japan, starting October 28. It will be sold only on the official website and they are currently accepting advance orders.

Color variations are Champagne Gold, Cardinal Red, Passion Pink, Turquoise Blue, and Lavender. 100 units are available for each color.

Price: ¥79,800


Honda has developed a low-cost, automatic valet parking system which uses parking lot surveillance cameras to help park cars automatically.

In this demonstration, when a car is left in the drop-off area of a parking lot, it receives information about which spaces are available, then drives itself to an empty space and parks. This system can automatically park multiple cars efficiently. Honda sees a lot of potential in a system such as this, especially if it is implemented in the large parking lots of suburban shopping centers.

Reno J. Tibke - January 25, 2014

JTFF - Japanese Technology from the Future Friday! - AkihabaraNews.com

This week the world is realizing that Japan’s high-speed trains are pretty much what everyone should be doing and maybe let’s all just go ahead and do as they do, Nissan’s autonomous cars just might debut in California before Japan, and the many things we can learn just by torturing Japanese leeches with cold!

• • •

At the Morita Lab in the Department of Mechanical Engineering of the Keio University Faculty of Science, researchers are advancing with research and development of unique robots from the perspective of mechanisms, control, skill, and an integration of each of these areas.