Meet Aquanaut, the Underwater Transformer

Houston Mechatronics built a robot sub that transforms into a skilled humanoid   Photo: Ken Kiefer Into the Blue: The robot Aquanaut floats underwater during a test at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory. Just a short distance away from me, two astronauts are practicing for a spacewalk. I’m drifting weightlessly, in a silence broken only by my own breathing and the occasional update from Mission Control in my headset. But this isn’t the dark void of space. I’m in Houston, scuba diving in a massive swimming pool that NASA uses to train astronauts for zero-gravity environments. And though it’s a thrill to watch the space-suited figures at work, I didn’t come to see them. I’m here for a peek at Aquanaut, the bright orange robot that we’re sharing the pool with. Aquanaut glides smoothly through the water like a miniature submarine. At first, it doesn’t seem all that different from other Continue reading Meet Aquanaut, the Underwater Transformer

Human Reflexes Help MIT’s HERMES Rescue Robot Keep Its Footing

MIT’s Hermes is a bipedal robot that uses full-body teleoperation to move with greater agility Photo: Bob O’Connor Dynamic Duo: MIT’s João Ramos wears a teleoperation suit that connects his body to that of HERMES, a bipedal robot designed for disaster response. Ramos’s reflexes help HERMES keep its footing. A sudden, tragic wake-up call: That’s how many roboticists view the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, caused by the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in 2011. Reports following the accident described how high levels of radiation foiled workers’ attempts to carry out urgent measures, such as operating pressure valves. It was the perfect mission for a robot, but none in Japan or elsewhere had the capabilities to pull it off. Fukushima forced many of us in the robotics community to realize that we needed to get our technology out of the lab and into the world. Disaster-response robots have made Continue reading Human Reflexes Help MIT’s HERMES Rescue Robot Keep Its Footing

Ford Self-Driving Vans Will Use Legged Robots to Make Deliveries

Agility Robotics’ Digit will bring packages from a delivery vehicle to your front door Ford is adding legs to its robocars—sort of. The automaker is announcing today that its fleet of autonomous delivery vans will carry more than just packages: Riding along with the boxes in the back there will be a two-legged robot. Digit, Agility Robotics’ humanoid unveiled earlier this year on the cover of IEEE Spectrum, is designed to move in a more dynamic fashion than regular robots do, and it’s able to walk over uneven terrain, climb stairs, and carry 20-kilogram packages. Ford says in a post on Medium that Digit will bring boxes from the curb all the way to your doorstep, covering those last few meters that self-driving cars are unable to. The company plans to launch a self-driving vehicle service in 2021.

IHMC Developing New Gymnast-Inspired Humanoid Robot

Hydraulic actuators will give Nadia a unique combination of flexibility and power The robotics group at the Institute for Human & Machine Cognition (IHMC) in Pensacola, Fla., has an enormous amount of experience with walking robots. They came in second at the DARPA Robotics Challenge with their Running Man Atlas, one of just three teams to score a perfect 8 out of 8, and they’ve continued to advance bipedal locomotion using both Atlas and NASA’s Valkyrie. We write about their research all the time—just a few months ago, they taught Atlas to walk with straight legs, much like a human does. Humans set a very high standard for bipedal mobility. We’re well designed for it in both hardware and software, and we can do some absolutely amazing things.  Getting robots to do the same kinds of things that humans can is an intimidating challenge, requiring both complex hardware and innovative Continue reading IHMC Developing New Gymnast-Inspired Humanoid Robot

Building Robots That Can Go Where We Go

To be useful around people, robots need to learn how to walk like we do Gif: Dan Saelinger 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. Some can even jump. 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. We must build robots with legs because our world is designed for legs. We step through narrow spaces, we navigate around obstacles, we go up and down steps. Robots on wheels or tracks Continue reading Building Robots That Can Go Where We Go

Video Friday: Innfos Humanoid Robot, and More

Your weekly selection of awesome robot videos Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your Automaton bloggers. We’ll also be posting a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months; here’s what we have so far (send us your events!): HRI 2019 – March 11-14, 2019 – Daegu, Korea RoboSoft 2019 – April 14-18, 2019 – Daegu, Korea Nîmes Robotics Festival – May 17-19, 2019 – Nîmes, France ICRA 2019 – May 20-24, 2019 – Montreal, Canada 2nd Annual Robotics Summit & Expo – June 4-6, 2019 – Boston, Mass., USA Energy Drone Coalition Summit – June 12-13, 2019 – Woodlands, Texas, USA Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today’s videos.

Caltech Building Agile Humanoid Robot by Combining Legs With Thrusters

Leonardo augments humanoid legs with thrusters to help it run and jump For better or worse, robots with humanoid features are often compared to humans—we want to know if they’re anywhere close to doing the same kinds of things that we do, and with a few exceptions, the answer is “probably not.” Humanoid robots are difficult to build and program, but we keep doing it because it makes some amount of sense to have robots that look and function like we do operating in the same environments that we operate in. However, one of the great things about robots is that they don’t have to be constrained by the same boring humanoid-ness that we are, and we can do all kinds of things to them to make them more capable than we’ll ever be. Over the past year, we’ve seen several different project that are enhancing the capabilities of humanoid Continue reading Caltech Building Agile Humanoid Robot by Combining Legs With Thrusters

Airbags Could Protect Humanoid Robots From Catastrophic Falls

Walking robots will always turn into falling robots, and wearable airbags could help keep them safe Humanoid robots are generally designed with the expectation that they won’t fall over. And most humanoid robots do, in fact, spend most of their time not falling over, although this is frequently because their creators don’t trust them enough to let them do anything fancy without being tethered to some sort of safety system. You can build your robot to be extra-durable and consequently make falling over less destructive than it would be otherwise, but then you end up over-engineering your hardware by designing it to be able to handle something that (ideally) won’t happen often, if ever. The ideal emergency safety system for humanoid robots would be cheap, reliable, lightweight, easy to integrate, and able to deploy at very short notice during the small window of time between when a robot detects that it’s Continue reading Airbags Could Protect Humanoid Robots From Catastrophic Falls

UBTECH Shows Off Massive Upgrades to Walker Humanoid Robot

The Chinese company demonstrates its consumer bipedal humanoid at CES This week at CES 2019, UBTECH Robotics (which was valued at $5 billion as of mid-2018) is announcing a major update to a walking robot first demonstrated at CES 2018. UBTECH’s Walker has gained a torso, arms, hands, and a head, and is now as humanoid as bipedal robots get. UBTECH has posted a couple of new videos, and answered some questions about Walker’s capabilities and where our expectations should be.

IHMC Teaches Atlas to Walk Like a Human

Humans walk with straight legs and most robots don’t, but IHMC is teaching Atlas to do better Humanoid robots have a very distinctive walk. Knees bent, torso as stationary as possible. Even Boston Dynamics’ own Atlas uses this crouching sort of squat-walk to get around, because those perpetually bent legs are how it keeps from falling over. This sort of gait is so common with humanoid robots that it’s become the “normal” robot gait, but it’s also not at all the way that humans walk. We walk with straight legs, locking our knees with each stride, because it’s much easier to support our weight that way. You can try it for yourself: that bent knee “bipedal robot” walk gets tiring to keep up, because your leg muscles always have to be engaged.  At IHMC, roboticists are busy solving this problem by teaching Atlas to walk more like we do. In addition Continue reading IHMC Teaches Atlas to Walk Like a Human