Thanks to Boston Dynamics’ BigDog (now owned by Google), quadruped robots are coming into their own. Maybe this has something to do with our obsession with robotic four-legged creatures, or maybe we’ve just played a lot of Half Life 2, but quadruped robots are officially a trend. The HyQ (Hydraulically Actuated Quadruped) robot from the Italian Institute of Technology is one such robotic creature, and is now ready to step up with BigDog, along with other quadrupeds, as one of the most adaptable robots yet.
Since HyQ’s introduction several years ago, the project’s researchers have been working on turning the robot away from being reactive in its environment to being pro-active, making it smarter by adding more cameras and sensors. So for example, instead of responding to rough terrain, HyQ can now “look” at the terrain, and its software will decide how best to traverse it, sort of like what we humans do when hiking up a mountain and carefully watching each step. This means that HyQ requires less human interaction to participate in such tasks, making it more autonomous.
So what else can HyQ do? Its researchers have made it move better, with legs that have three ranges of motion, allowing it to run faster and absorb shock and impact when jumping. It can also take a serious punch, and proved this after being repeatedly hit by a 50 pound punching bag. The robot absorbs the impact of the bag and adjusts itself to stay on its feet.
Having a four-legged robot with this sort of movement can come in handy in dangerous situations. It could function well under circumstances that humans cannot (such as entering unstable buildings after an earthquake) and it can prevent damage to itself by reacting quickly to dangerous factors in its environment. This is exactly what the researchers hope to achieve with HyQ, allowing its use for everything from search and rescue to firefighting.
Via IEEE Spectrum