Bipedal Robots Walk Agilely on Two Legs

At the New Economic Summit (NEST) 2016 conference, in Tokyo, Japan, Andy Rubin unveiled an awesome new bipedal robot from SCHAFT. The new robot can easily climb stairs, carry a payload weighing 60 kilos, balance on a pipe, and move in tight spaces. In fact, they even showed a video where the robot can be seen climbing a narrow staircase. By positioning its legs behind its body, the robot is shown cleaning the stairs using a spinning brush and a vacuum type appendage attached to its feet. The video also shows the robot outdoors, negotiating snow, slippery rocks, and rough terrain.

According to the SCHAFT representative, they have not yet announced the robot product, and neither have they named it yet. However, the robot will be a low-cost, low power consumption, compact device that will help humankind. Incidentally, travelling over uneven terrain, tackling stairs, and lifting weights are notoriously difficult for robots.

Engineers also find it tough when deigning bipedal robots. Although one of the main advantages of making a bipedal robot in the first place is to make it adapt to uneven terrains, it also has to be steady and self-balancing. However, as Agility Robotics has demonstrated, bipedal robots can be agile too.

Coming as a spinoff company from the Oregon State University, Agility Robotics have named their bipedal robot as Cassie. Earlier, the firm’s researchers had Cassie’s predecessor, ATRIAS. In a demonstration video, ATRIAS played a slightly one-sided game of dodge ball.

According to the researchers, the robot ATRIAS was the first to exhibit gait dynamics that were surprisingly human-like. Although ATRIAS implemented walking with a spring-mass, it did not serve any purpose other than being the practical machine for a science demonstration. The researchers explained spring-mass walking as a passive mechanism mimicking the human muscles by using the elasticity of springs.

Agile Robotics has improved this mechanism with Cassey, while also adding a hip joint with three degrees of freedom. That allows Cassey to steer more easily. Cassey also has powered ankles, which means it can stand still without having to jig from one foot to the other. Agile Robotics is now mocking up a possible final design for Cassey as a consumer model.

It is interesting to consider how useful such a bipedal bot could be. Compared to a wheeled robot, a bipedal robot walking on two legs may be a complex engineering achievement. However, that means the robot can go pretty much anywhere a human can. That includes stairs, rocky grounds, anything a human can tackle.

According to Agility Robotics, Cassey and similar bots can be used for search-and-rescue operations, in areas dangerous to humans. If the bots are cheap enough, doctors can use such robots to help improve exoskeletons or prosthetic limbs. Another suggestion is to use these bots for delivering packages. However, the bots may need to have an additional telescoping stick for poking at doorbells.

Although still in the future, these bipedal robots will be useful in space exploration, walking and mapping unknown terrains. Another area where they would be welcome is in the nuclear applications, such as when cleaning up after a nuclear disaster, as the bots could be designed to remain unaffected by high doses of radiation.