It’s the best of both worlds, really — a robot that moves and reacts like a human. In the never ending quest to turn man into a machine (or vice versa), engineers at MIT are moving yet another step closer, developing HERMES, the bipedal (two-legged) robot that is actually controlled by the movements of its human counterpart. It’s like Iron Man, only instead of being inside the suit, the person activating HERMES’ motions is actually external to the machine. By wearing an “exoskeleton of wires and motors,” HERMES’ puppeteer sees his or her actions mirrored to a tee by the much stronger, more agile, futuristic version of him or herself. A comforting thought, to be sure.
According to the MIT News Office, the robot boasts a “unique balance-feedback interface” that allows it “carry out momentum-driven tasks — like punching through walls, or swinging a bat — while maintaining its balance,” all because a human feels much of what the machine feels. And because HERMES stands at about 90 percent of the size of the average human, it can also navigate many of the same scenarios and environments as homo sapiens, making it an excellent choice for disaster relief operations and other dangerous situations.
HERMES will be one of many robots competing at the DARPA Robotics Challenge finals, but the MIT Department of Mechanical Engineering is certainly of the opinion that this robot will be one of the most human-like in the bunch. And while HERMES currently depends upon its controller to give it, well, life, researchers believe that may not be the case forever. They explained, “The human’s still going to provide that creativity, that problem-solving and that large-scale coordination of all the joints, but we’ve designed the robot to be stronger than a person, so we’d imagine that in the future we want to merge some level of autonomous control along with the human’s intelligence.”
Exciting, but maybe just the slightest bit ominous, too.