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Bizarre stork robot uses a drone to compensate for its weak, twig-like legs

We can be suckers for weird robots here at Digital Trends — and they don’t get much weirder than this “Aerial-Biped” robot developed by engineers from Japan’s University of Tokyo. Halfway between a drone and a ground-based robot, the Aerial Biped’s body is comprised of a quadrotor UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) that remains rooted to the ground with thin, stork-like legs.

On a technical level, Aerial Biped is pretty smart. Its walking motion isn’t preprogrammed, but rather the result of a type of artificial intelligence called reinforcement learning. That’s the same type of goal-based A.I. that helped Google DeepMind learn how to play classic Atari games based on nothing more than the visible information on screen. In this case, the robot uses information about the forward velocity of the quadrotor to figure out how it should use its legs.

The idea behind the robot’s design was to create a robot that won’t ever fall over, since its upper body will remain airborne at all times. As we saw when Boston Dynamics’ Atlas robot fell off the stage during a demo last year, even the most sophisticated robots are capable of taking a tumble. As a result, many researchers (including those at the University of Tokyo) are working to come up with alternative designs to the traditional humanoid robots long imagined by science fiction writers. Aerial Biped may not be practical as, say, an equipment carrier, but it’s certainly a unique way of getting around the problem of stability.

Right now, Aerial Biped exists purely as a proof of concept prototype that’s designed to explore this form of locomotion. In the future, however, its creators believe it could be used in an entertainment capacity, potentially for animatronics or various types of performance. With that goal in mind, they are currently investigating different types of motion that it could perform — including a variety of dances.

While it’s highly unlikely that we’ll see robots such as this one ever used in military applications, or as part of search and rescue missions, it’s very easy to picture it finding a future summer job at somewhere like Walt Disney World. Hey, who said all robots needed to be serious?

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