Hulking 165-pound humanoid robot delicately ‘walks a tightrope’ of tiny blocks – Science Story

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Fascinating footage shows a robot using autonomous planning to precisely move along a treacherous path of narrow cinder blocks.

Researchers trained the 165-pound ‘humanoid robot’ to walk across narrow terrain by using human-like control, perception and planning algorithms.

The video shows the robot, called Atlas, carefully moving across a balance beam using body control created using LIDAR.

This system uses a pulsed laser to measure the distance between objects and this is procssed by the machine so it can step correctly on the narrow terrain.

The researchers, from the Institute for Human & Machine Cognition (IHMC) in Florida, hope that the tech could be used for bomb squads or rescue missions. 

At first glance, a robot walking between two platforms across several cinder blocks may look like a simple feat but many actions that humans can do with ease are challenging for robots.

Our complex joints and an in-built natural balance system allows us to navigate such obstacles with ease but this is difficult to replicate with a machine. 

As well as that, our small, narrow feet allow us to move around tight obstacles with ease, or step over barriers, all while supporting ourselves.

With Atlas, the LIDAR system builds a map of the area it’s going to travel across, and then uses a ‘path planning algorithm’ to determine each step it should take. 

It is able to balance by using angular momentum and with its bipedal feet and human-like joints which give it ranges of motion. 

Currently it is successful with about half of its attempts, according to IHMC, but the company is already working to increase that rate by improving the robot’s balance and the range of motion in its joints. 

Perhaps the most intriguing setting for using bipedal humanoid robots is extraterrestrial.  

The team say that when humans colonise other planets remotely operated robots like Atlas could go before that to develop a habitat suitable for human beings. 

Being able to send robots that look and move like us, they said, would give scientists a major advantage. 

Jerry Pratt, a research scientist at IHMC Robotics told NDTV he believes a bipedal humanoid robot would be immediately useful for dangerous emergency scenarios.

Its ability to negotiate different terrains could make it ideal for combing through a collapsed building or an avalanche, where a wheeled robot would get stuck.  

‘We plan to increase the rate of success by adding balance using angular momentum and by better considering joint ranges of motion,’ a statement on the company website reads.

‘Narrow terrain is difficult due to the need to do some ”cross-over” steps, which are tricky due to limited range of motion in the hip joint, and also due to having a small polygon of support when one foot is directly in front of the other.’   

The advantage of being bipedal and humanoid is that your mobility has the potential to be really good,’ Mr Pratt said. 

‘If you think about everywhere a human go can go it’s really incredible. We can climb mountains or go into caves or hike through snow or climb stairs. There aren’t many places we can’t go.’ 

 

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