Today, Agility Robotics, a spin-off of Oregon State University, is officially announcing a shiny new bipedal robot named Cassie. Cassie is a dynamic walker, meaning that it walks much more like humans do than most of the carefully plodding bipedal robots we're used to seeing. This makes it better at handling the kind of diverse and complex terrain that we walk over all the time without even thinking, a talent that's going to be mandatory for robots that want to tackle the different environments and situations that they'll need to master to be actually useful around people. In addition to search-and-rescue and disaster relief, Agility Robotics has one particular environment and situation in mind: They want Cassie to be scampering up your steps to deliver packages to your front door. Cassie is just three months old in this video, which, if you consider the typical pace for teaching a bipedal robot that you designed from the ground up from scratch to walk without constantly falling over, is quite frankly astonishing.
Agility Robotics has unveiled a new bipedal robot named Digit, which adds an upper torso, arms, sensors, and additional computing power to the successful Cassie robot design. Agility says Digit's four degree-of-freedom arms greatly extend both the mobility and utility of Digit, as compared to Cassie. The machine could find useful applications in logistics. Dr Jonathan Hurst, CTO and co-founder of Agility, says: "For us, arms are simultaneously a tool for moving through the world – think getting up after a fall, waving your arms for balance, or pushing open a door – while also being useful for manipulating or carrying objects." These new capabilities are important when moving through complex, human-oriented environments, for tasks such as curb-to-doorstep delivery.
That was the message delivered by Agility Robotics and Boston Dynamics during their respective opening and closing keynotes at the inaugural Robotics Summit & Showcase, produced by The Robot Report and WTWH Media in Boston. Agility Robotics CEO and co-founder Damion Shelton updated attendees on its Cassie bipedal robot. Boston Dynamics co-founder and CEO Marc Raibert quickly discussed the wheel-leg hybrid robot Handle, which he said we'll hear more about in 2019 with a real application, while focusing more on the Atlas bipedal and SpotMini quadruped robots. Raibert conducted a live demo of SpotMini (watch below) where the robot traversed a small obstacle and picked up a soda can and handed it to Raibert. Neither company claims legged robots are a fit for every application.
Cassie is an advanced legged mobility robot. Created by Oregon State University spin-off, Agility Robotics, Cassie's engineering team has big plans for this robot to assist rescuers in disaster relief and go the extra mile when delivering packages right to our doors, potentially helping to revolutionise the retail market. If bipedal robots are not especially efficient why do we keep trying to build them? Simply put, these types of robots are useful in navigating around in human-created environments. Just watching the, albeit, slightly hilarious, compilation video from the DARPA competition makes you realise that creating efficient mobility in robotics is incredibly difficult; indeed, it's nowhere near good enough.
Robots have walked on legs for decades. Today's most advanced humanoid robots can tramp along flat and inclined surfaces, climb up and down stairs, and slog through rough terrain. But despite the progress, legged robots still can't begin to match the agility, efficiency, and robustness of humans and animals. Existing walking robots hog power and spend too much time in the shop. All too often, they fail, they fall, and they break. For the robotic helpers we've long dreamed of to become a reality, these machines will have to learn to walk as we do.