This Robot Keeps Its Balance By Relying On Human Reflexes

Dhir Acharya - Oct 31, 2019


This Robot Keeps Its Balance By Relying On Human Reflexes

It would be best if robots have the same flexibility in movements like humans do. But for that to be achieved, humans have to feel what robots feel.

Everything you see on the news may make you think that the world is entering an era of autonomous robots, but in fact, they are helpless. It would be best if robots have the same flexibility in movements like humans do. But for that to be achieved, humans have to feel what robots feel, which is what these researchers are working on.

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Theoretically, bipedal robots excel for their ability to navigate in human environments, but in reality, they are more likely to fall compared with wheeled or quadrupedal robots. Despite their complex algorithms to help them stay upright, those seem not enough in some cases.

And to overcome this problem, MIT researchers and researchers at the University of Illinois-Champaign have build a hybrid human-robot system that will remind you of those from a Hollywood movie.

And as explained by Sangbae Kim from MIT and João Ramos from the University of Illinois, the system’s co-creators, the fact that the references seem sci-fi doesn’t mean the robots don’t need this.

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In a news release, Ramos said that the research team got the motivation from watching the disaster unfold of the 2011 earthquake in Tohoku, Japan, as well as Tsunami and subsequent Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant. They thought that if instead of humans, a robot kicked in and went into the power plant, the results would have been different.

Their robot, which is called Little Hermes, is a small bipedal robot that’s directly hooked up to a human operator standing on a pressure-sensing plate as they wear a vest for force feedback.

In general, the robot follows the movements of the operator, not exactly 1:1, especially when the robot has a much smaller size than a human. Nevertheless, after translating the movements regarding force vectors and the center of gravity, it generates a corresponding action almost at the same time with the human operator.

And if the robot encounters an obstacle or slope, those forces will be transferred to the operator through the vest. If the operator feels the pressure that indicates a leftward lean, their instincts will make them step to the left. Then the robot will naturally do the same and catch itself.

With this feedback, on-site rescue robots, as well as others in uncertain footing, will be more reliable. However, this technology isn’t limited to just legs or to this robot only. The researchers want to build similar feedback systems for hands and feet to further improve grip and mobility.

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