Cheetah 3 Is Learning To Move Blindly Before Learning To See

Stand up right now and walk around for a minute. We’re pretty sure you didn’t see everywhere you stepped nor did you plan each step meticulously according to visual input. So why should robots do the same? Wouldn’t your robot be more versatile if it could use its vision to plan a path, but leave most of the walking to the legs with the help of various sensors and knowledge of joint positions?

That’s the approach [Sangbae Kim] and a team of researchers at MIT are taking with their Cheetah 3. They’ve given it cameras but aren’t using them yet. Instead, they’re making sure it can move around blind first. So far they have it walking, running, jumping and even going up stairs cluttered with loose blocks and rolls of tape.

Cheetah 3 jumping 30 inches onto a desk
Jumping 30 inches onto a desk

Two algorithms are at the heart of its being able to move around blind.

The first is a contact detection algorithm which decides if the legs should transition between a swing or a step based on knowledge of the joint positions and data from gyroscopes and accelerometers. If it tilted unexpectedly due to stepping on a loose block then this is the algorithm which decides what the legs should do.

The second is a model-predictive algorithm. This predicts what force a leg should apply once the decision has been made to take a step. It does this by calculating the multiplicative positions of the robot’s body and legs a half second into the future. These calculations are done 20 times a second. They’re what help it handle situations such as when someone shoves it or tugs it on a leash. The calculations enabled it to regain its balance or continue in the direction it was headed.

There are a number of other awesome features of this quadruped robot which we haven’t seen in others such as Boston Dynamics’ SpotMini like invertible knee joints and walking on three legs. Check out those features and more in the video below.

Of course, SpotMini has a whole set of neat features of its own. Let’s just say that while they look very similar, they’re on two different evolutionary paths. And the Cheetah certainly has evolved since we last looked at it a few years ago.

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[James Bruton] Is Making A Dog: OpenDog Project

There was a time when a two-legged walking robot was the thing to make. But after seeing years of Boston Dynamic’s amazing four-legged one’s, more DIYers are switching to quadrupeds. Now we can add master DIY robot builder [James Bruton] to the list with his openDog project. What’s exciting here is that with [James’] extensive robot-building background, this is more like starting the challenge from the middle rather than the beginning and we should see exciting results sooner rather than later.

James' motor and ball screws
James’ motor and ball screws

Thus far [James] has gone through the planning stage, having iterated through a few versions using Fusion 360, and he’s now purchased the parts. It’s going to be about the same size as Boston Robotic’s SpotMini and uses three motors for each leg. He considered going with planetary gearboxes on the motors but experienced a certain amount of play, or backlash, with them in his BB-9E project so this time he’s going with ball screws as he did with his exoskeleton. (Did we mention his extensive background?)

Each leg is actually made up of an upper and lower leg, which means his processing is going to have to include some inverse kinematics. That’s where the code decides where it wants the foot to go and then has to compute backwards from there how to angle the legs to achieve that. Again drawing from experience when he’s done it the hard way in the past, this time he’s designed the leg geometry to make those calculations easy. Having written up some code to do the calculations, he’s compared the computed angles with the measurements he gets from positioning the legs in Fusion 360 and found that his code is right on. We’re excited by what we’ve seen so far and bet it’ll be standing and walking in no time. Check out his progress in the video below.

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RoMeLa’s Sideways Walking Robot Has Evolved More Limbs

Despite the success shown in prototypes from groups like Boston Dynamics, bipedal walking is still really hard to implement. When the robot lifts one leg, it has to shift its center of gravity over the other leg to avoid falling sideways.

The Autonomous Legged Personal Helper Robot with Enhanced Dynamics (ALPHRED) is getting around this problem by coming at it from a different angle. ALPHRED walks sideways and throws away the distinction between arms and legs.

The bot is RoMeLa at UCLA’s latest evolution in their approach to traditional bipedal roadblocks. Sideways walking is something we covered when we talked about their previous version, NABi, which had only two legs. ALPHRED expands that to four limbs. As the video below shows, all four limbs can be used for walking using either a wide, stable sprawl or the limbs can reorient to a narrower dog or horse-like stance for faster running.

Beyond walking, one or two of the limbs can be put to use as hands to open a door or hand over a package, which is why they refer to them as limbs instead of legs or hands. Only an animation is shown of that configuration but RoMeLa is a robotics lab which we keep an eye on so we’ll let you know if they demonstrate it.

The video goes on to show a neat actuator with active compliance which they call BEAR, Back-drivable Electromagnetic Actuator for Robots. A search turned up no further details but let us know in the comments if you have any. We also liked seeing how they use a speaker to give a rough idea of the amount of current being drawn. While it’s both practical and a hack, it also adds a nice sci-fi touch.

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Soft-legged Robot Handles Rough Terrain with Ease

Whether it’s wheels, tracks, feet, or even a roly-poly body like BB-8, most robots have to deal with an essential problem: dirt and grit can get into the moving bits and cause problems. Some researchers from UCSD have come up with a clever way around this: pneumatically actuated soft-legged robots that adapt to rough terrain.

At a top speed of 20 mm per second, [Michael Tolley]’s squishy little robot won’t set any land speed records. But for applications like search and rescue or placing sensors in inhospitable or inaccessible locations, slow and steady might just win the race. The quadrupedal robot’s running gear can be completely 3D-printed on any commercial printer capable of using a soft filament. The legs each contain three parallel air chambers within a bellowed outer skin; alternating how the chambers are inflated controls how they move. The soft legs adapt to unstructured terrain and are completely sealed, eliminating intrusion problems. The video below shows how the bot gets around just fine over rocks and sand.

The legs remind us a little of our [Joshua Vazquez]’s tentacle mechanism, but with fewer parts. Right now, the soft robot is tethered to its air supply, but the team is working on a miniaturized pump to make the whole thing mobile. At which point we bet it’ll even be able to swim.

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Quadruped Robot Can Crawl Under Cars and Jump-Kick-Open Doors

The wheel is a revolutionary invention — as they say — but going back to basics sometimes opens new pathways. Robots that traverse terrain on legs are on the rise, most notably the Boston Dynamics Big Dog series of robots — and [Ghost Robotics]’ Minitaur quadruped aims to keep pace.

One of [Ghost Robotics] founders, [Gavin Knneally] states that co-ordination is one of the main problems to overcome when developing quadruped robots; being designed to clamber across especially harsh terrain, Minitaur’s staccato steps carry it up steep hills, stairs, across ice, and more. Its legs also allow it to adjust its height — the video shows it trot up to a car, hunker down, then begin to waddle underneath with ease.

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I am Science Fiction Incarnate; I am Handle

This is the first official look at Boston Dynamics’ new robot design, called Handle, and it’s a doozy. They are a trusted source of cutting-edge real-world robotics, which is good. If this came from an unknown source we’d be scrambling to debunk it as fake. This robot shows incredible utility, the likes of which has been relegated to the computer graphics of the movie and video game industries.

Impressive ability to keep 'hands' stationary in 3D space
Impressive ability to keep ‘hands’ stationary in 3D space

At the beginning of the month, we saw a demonstration of the robot but it was simply cellphone footage of a conference hall video. This is a crystal clear 60fps video from Boston Dynamics themselves with a few juicy details to go along with it. Chief among them (for us anyway) is that this prototype has a battery range of about 15 miles between charges. The efficiency is due in large part to the wheeled nature of the beast. It balances on two wheels, but the design attaches those wheels to two fully articulated legs rather than directly to the frame of the body.

The result is a quadruped that is distinctly not human in appearance but can perform well in similar environments and with similar tasks. Handle is capable of offsetting its body weight, allowing the front limbs to pick up heavy objects while maintaining balance. The combination of both electric and hydraulic actuators let it perform feats like jumping over four-foot high objects. The independence of each wheel is shown off with ramps to simulate uneven terrain.

Bravo BD. We can’t wait to see Handle wheeling down the street placing smile-adorned boxes on each stoop as it revolutionizes home delivery. Oh, and kudos on the 80’s-style freeze frame at the end of the video below.

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Hacklet 109 – Complex 3D Printed Projects

If you can’t tell, we’re on a roll with 3D printers and printed projects this month. So far, we’ve covered printers, and simple functional 3D prints. This week we’re taking a look at some of the awesome complex 3D printed projects on Hackaday.io.

Complex 3D printed projects are things like robots, quadcopters, satellite tracking systems, and more. So let’s jump in and look at some of the best complex 3D printed projects on Hackaday.io!

dtto2We start with [Alberto] and Dtto v1.0 Modular Robot. Dtto is [Alberto’s] entry in the 2016 Hackaday Prize. Inspired by Bruce Lee’s famous water quote, Dtto is a modular snake-like robot. Each section of Dtto is a double hinged joint. When two sections come together, magnets help them align. A servo controlled latch solidly docks the sections, which then work in unison. Dtto can connect and separate segments autonomously – no human required. [Alberto] sees applications for a robot like [Dtto] in search and rescue and space operations. Continue reading “Hacklet 109 – Complex 3D Printed Projects”