Researchers at Oregon State University successfully tested their ATRIAS robot’s abilities to walk across different terrains. As it was going for a walk it faced inclines and declines, grass, concrete and sudden terrain changes and dealt with it just fine. In fact, scientists were so satisfied with the results that they started throwing rubber balls into it to see if it will move it out of balance and it did not scare ATRIAS at all.
It can walk at a normal walking speed of about 5 km/h. However, scientists say that it heralds the running robots of the future. But maybe in the further future, as Atrias is still only walking closely supervised by scientists. Even so, it showed nearly perfect results in their latest walk in the park, enduring bumps and lumps of uneven grass fine.
Construction of the robot is interesting in itself. It is a bipedal robot that was biologically inspired to mimic the spring-legged action of animals. It is said that it is the closest a machine has yet come to resembling human locomotion. It has six electric motors powered by a lithium polymer battery. Battery itself is significantly smaller than those of other mobile robots. It is possible because of nature of the robot – elastic leg design and energy retention that is natural to animal movement helps save the energy and allows for a smaller battery.
Jonathan Hurst, an Oregon State associate professor of mechanical engineering, explained that “Animals with legs sort of flow in the energy used, in which retained kinetic energy is just nudged by very efficient muscles and tendons to continue the movement once it has begun”. This means that Atrias is walking (and will eventually run) with fluidity typical for animals. It is a very efficient way to move along. Two legged robots should cope with different terrains better than ones driven by wheels as well, and should provide wider range of robotic uses and potential.
During this walk robot was strapped to a safety harness to catch it if it fell, which it did couple of times. However, the frame, to which harness was tied to, did not provide any balance or energy to the robot and was only used to prevent costly damage during development of the project. It fell because of sensor glitches in the system, which showed weak spots of the robot and will help scientists to eliminate them.
Scientists are proudly claiming that this robot is three times more energy-efficient than any other human-sized bipedal robots. Efficiency was achieved through collaboration with other institutions. Scientists at Royal Veterinary College conducted a study on how animals move to guide the creation of the robot. The project also attracted attention and funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency of the U.S. military, which shows how intriguing and relevant such project is.
Inspiration from the nature was critically important in the project. A strutting bird or a human one year old baby can combine sensory input from nerves, vision, muscles and tendons to allow a level of locomotion that scientists are still working to emulate. If it was achieved, it could be useful in a variety of applications, such as creating prosthetic limbs or exo-skeletons to assist people with muscular weakness. Robots themselves are very useful as well in the military, in disaster response, or any type of dangerous situation.
Adventures and development of Atrias can be observed on university’s Dynamic Robotics Laboratory Youtube channel and on its own Twitter account. We will have to wait for it to start running, even if it means that scientists would have to run by its side to catch it when it falls.