Photo/IllutrationKengoro the humanoid robot drives a small electric vehicle while waving on Oct. 23 at the Toyota city government office in Aichi Prefecture. (Akihito Usui)

TOYOTA, Aichi Prefecture--Do androids dream of electric sheep? Perhaps some do, but in Kengoro’s case the dream is to become a chauffeur, and so the humanoid robot is learning to drive in this most fitting of cities.

Artificial intelligence-based Kengoro is practicing the skill with the aim of becoming able to not only drive its owners home, but also to provide assistance for elderly people and people with disabilities.

The robotic motorist uses technology being developed by the Johou Systems Kougaku (JSK) Laboratory of the University of Tokyo’s graduate school, while the Toyota city government is providing two public sites for Kengoro’s training.

Masayuki Inaba, a robotics professor at the laboratory, said Kengoro may one day serve as a chauffeur and helper for disabled and elderly individuals.

“It takes a month even for a human to become able to drive a car,” Inaba said. “The success of the experiment could lead to the development of a multi-functional robot that can not only drive cars but offer support for elderly people.”

To coincide with the start of the trial, the Toyota city government signed a cooperation agreement with the lab as part of its efforts to improve the city on Oct. 23, when Kengoro operated a vehicle in front of people in a demonstration.

Measuring 167 centimeters tall and 56 kilograms in weight, Kengoro has a musculoskeletal system resembling that of humans and can move smoothly thanks to its 116 body-mounted motors.

The laboratory began developing humanoids 20 years ago.

With the aim of helping disaster relief operations and the daily lives of disabled and elderly people, the lab has to date created robots that can move objects, clean rooms and engage in other activities normally done by humans.

The goal of the latest experiment, which will continue for three years, is training the AI-based robot to ride and operate a vehicle by himself safely through driving practice.

When the lab was seeking training sites for Kengoro, Toyota city offered to assist in the trial.

Driving courses at the Toyota City Traffic Safety Learning Center and the Toyota Ecoful Town, both provided as experimental sites, are equipped with traffic signals, intersections and pedestrian crossings.

Kengoro drives, stops and parks a small electric car repeatedly on the courses on Mondays, when the facilities are closed, and during their closing hours.

To drive a car, a humanoid needs to move as smoothly as humans while operating the steering wheel and brake, the lab’s researchers said.