|Bipedal robots are more likely to fall down than their quadrupedal and wheeled counterparts / Photo Credit: yucelyilmaz (via Shutterstock)|
In theory, bipedal robots are capable of navigating human environments, but they are more susceptible to falling than wheeled or quadrupedal robots, according to Kevin Coldeley of TechCrunch, an American tech news platform. Bipedal robots have sophisticated algorithms to keep them upright, but algorithms might not be enough in some situations. Unfortunately, autonomous robots are still helpless. Maybe fast human reflexes are the solution to this problem.
Hence, researchers at the University of Illinois-Champaign assembled a hybrid human-robot system, publishing their findings in Science Robotics, via scientific journal portal AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science). While the robot may look like it came from a science fiction movie, there is a dire need to create such a system, stated U of I’s Joao Ramos, the robot’s co-creator with MIT’s Sangbae Kim. Ramos explained, “We were motivated by watching the 2011 Tohoku, Japan, earthquake, tsunami and subsequent Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant disaster unfold.”
Perhaps things could have ended differently if a robot were to enter the powerplant in the aftermath of the disaster, he added. The robot the researchers created is called Little Hermes. It is hooked to a human operator, who wears a force-feedback vest and stands on a pressure-standing plate. In general, the robot mimics the operator’s movements. It will interpret those movements in terms of force vectors and center of gravity. Then, it will execute a corresponding action simultaneously.
Forces are transmitted to the operator via the vest if the robot encounters an unexpected slope or obstacle. Reflexively, the operator will take a step once they feel pressure indicating a leftward lean. The robot will do the same and take a step. On-site rescue robots deployed on uncertain footing could benefit from this feedback loop system. However, this technology is not limited to Little Hermes or legs. The researchers even want to implement feedback systems for hands and feet to improve mobility and grip.