Engineers are making strides on the design of four-legged robots and their ability to run, jump and even do backflips. But getting two-legged, humanoid robots to exert force or push against something without falling has been a significant stumbling block. Now engineers at MIT and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have developed a method to control balance in a two-legged, teleoperated robot -- an essential step toward enabling a humanoid to carry out high-impact tasks in challenging environments. The team's robot, physically resembling a machined torso and two legs, is controlled remotely by a human operator wearing a vest that transmits information about the human's motion and ground reaction forces to the robot. Through the vest, the human operator can both direct the robot's locomotion and feel the robot's motions.
Based on every horror/sci-fi movie I've ever seen, squishing an actual fleshy human brain into a robot would make it unstoppable. Sooner or later, I'm sure someone is going try it for real. Until they do, what's almost as good is letting a robot borrow an actual fleshy human brain to help it balance and complete tasks requiring sensing and dexterity. It's like teleoperation, except the user's brain and body are controlling the robot directly, from inside a haptic suit. HERMES is a disaster response robot from MIT based on the Cheetah Robot, developed by Professor Sangbae Kim and his group at the MIT Biomimetic Robotics Lab.
As much as we'd like to think that we're entering an era of autonomous robots, they're actually still pretty helpless. To keep them from falling down all the time, a human's fast reflexes could be the solution. But the human has to feel what the robot is feeling -- and that's just what these researchers are testing. Bipedal robots are excellent in theory for navigating human environments, but naturally are more prone to falling than quadrupedal or wheeled robots. Although they often have sophisticated algorithms that help keep them upright, in some situations those just might not be enough.
It was supposed to be a demonstration of just how much Boston Dynamic's six foot tall humanoid robot has improved. Instead, the latest test of the machine's prowess descended into disaster when it fell off the stage at the Congress of Future Science and Technology Leaders conference in Massachusetts. The fall promoted staff to rush to its aid, and followed a series of previous blunders that saw it trip repeatedly during a recent'Robot Olympics' event. According to Boston Dynamics, Atlas is a'high mobility, humanoid robot designed to negotiate outdoor, rough terrain. 'Atlas can walk bipedally leaving the upper limbs free to lift, carry, and manipulate the environment.
This week, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency announced a challenge to push the limits of robotic design and control. DARPA's Subterranean Challenge will require teams to have robots maneuver objects through three different environments: a series of caves, a bunker-like "urban environment," and a labyrinth of confined tunnels. While the robots will be remote-controlled, they'll need some serious autonomous skills. They will need to rapidly map and explore unfamiliar environments even when communications are spotty and conditions are challenging for sensors. The teams will be allowed to use as many different types of robot as they like, but this will mean dealing with greater complexity in communications and coordination.