Kawasaki shows off the robot Capricorn Bex

Kawasaki shows off the robot Capricorn Bex.

Robots that you can ride are quite rare, but now Kawasaki, the Japanese company that manufactures motorcycles, engines and defense materials, has shown one. The robot is called Bex and was shown at last week’s 2022 International Robot Exhibition (iREX) in Tokyo.

The ibex-like robot is a result of Kawasaki’s robot program Kaleido, during which, until now, robots with two legs have been primarily developed, which are more similar to us humans. However, Bex can bounce on its four legs or roll forward on a pair of wheels that are put in the ground when the robot bends on its “knees”

Bex came out of the company’s Kaleido program, which has seen it work on bipedal robots since 2015. Partway through that project, Kawasaki’s engineers decided to build a robot that could both move quickly across level ground and navigate tricky terrain Bex was created as part of an effort at Kawasaki the company calls a "robust humanoid platform" with a project called Kaleido. Most such efforts from the project have involved robots that are halfway between human-like robots and wheeled bots. Bex appears to be an aberration—it is a quadruped with wheels on its knees. The robot can walk around, similar in many respects to a quadruped from Boston Dynamics, though much slower. But it also squats down to its knees, locks its joints and fires up a motor that drives the robot around like a car. Bex can also carry cargo (up to 100 kilograms) such as crops or humans. At the exhibition, Bex was mounted by an engineer and ridden in circles like a pony. The team at Kawasaki has also made the robot a little glitzier than many of its competitors—it has flashing lights that run up and down its neck and antlers. Officials with Kawasaki noted at the show that the robot's head can be replaced with other suitable alternatives such as a horse's head or even nothing at all. They also noted that Bex has been engineered to move quickly in its wheeled configuration and that the walking configuration is to deal with uneven terrain. Also, the team put stability at the forefront. When the robot is rolling, all of its wheels are always on the ground, and when it is walking, its gait keeps at least two feet on the ground. This reduced computation requirements and made the robot safer to use around humans.

Bex features a set of wheels on its knees, allowing it to move faster on smooth surfaces than the glacial pace it plods along when walking. 

Bex can carry approximately 220 pounds of cargo. In addition to transporting construction materials and the like, Kawasaki envisions it carrying out remote industrial site inspections, much like Spot is already doing at Hyundai factories in Korea. To that end, the top half of Bex is fully modular, so it doesn’t have to look like a goat.