The biggest hurdle that’s preventing bipedal humanoid robots from being useful in real life is arguably their lackluster ability to overcome obstacles and negotiate difficult terrain. We humans have no trouble scaling a flight of stairs or stepping over an unexpected pothole, but robots aren’t so good at that kind of stuff yet.
Oregon State University’s Dynamic Robotics Laboratory Team wants to change that. The group has designed a robot called ATRIAS that is capable of recovering from curbs, pits, puddles, and various other hurdles — without having to see the obstacle or plan its movements in advance.
The robot was designed as part of a research project to test and demonstrate the science of walking and running, with ultimate goal of creating robots with the ability to overcome highly technical terrain quickly and efficiently.
To make this possible, ATRIAS is equipped with two carbon fiber legs mounted to series-elastic fiberglass springs, which act as a suspension system and help the bot store mechanical energy. These springy legs give it the ability to run and walk like a human, and also help to minimize the impact forces generated on each footfall, thereby keeping the robot stable.
Lately, the team behind the project has been subjecting ATRIAS to various tests. In the most recent video released by the team, the bot can be seen maneuvering over a 15 centimeter step completely blind. ATRIAS is not fitted with a navigation system or spatial awareness sensors of any kind, so it can therefore only react to obstacles once it has encountered them. Even after planting its foot awkwardly it manages to balance itself and keep moving.
With these capabilities, ATRIAS could one day be able to climb stairs, wander around urban environments, or even stumble over rubble on post-disaster rescue missions.