Of the handful of quadrupeds being built around the world, Boston Dynamics has been hogging most of the attention with their Cheetah, BigDog, and AlphaDog robots. But they may have a worthy challenger in the hydraulic quadruped (HyQ) project in development at the Italian Institute of Technology’s Department of Advanced Robotics.
The project began in 2008, and by autumn of 2010 HyQ was being tested on a treadmill. Then in May it was taken outside where it managed to achieve a speed of 2 meters per second (7.2 kph [4.5 mph]) with a walking trot gait. They expect to achieve even faster speeds with a running trot, which they are currently working on.
HyQ measures 1 meter in length and stands just shy of 1 meter (3’3″) tall. Its aluminum alloy and stainless steel frame weighs 90kg (198 lbs) including its power source, which will be added to the robot soon. Using a combination of 2 hydraulic actuators and 1 electric motor per leg, it can generate enough power to jump and absorb ground impacts. It goes without saying, but it wasn’t all that long ago that robots like this couldn’t jump at all. It is equipped with position and force sensors on each joint, and an IMU in its body, allowing it to recover if it trips on an obstacle. This ability to react spontaneously stems from its use of the same control software developed for LittleDog at USC, thanks in part to the work of team member Jonas Buchli.
HyQ was not designed to carry the heavy payloads of a military mule like AlphaDog, but it could find practical use in search and rescue operations. The team has drawn plans to add two arms to its body, giving it a centaur-like configuration, which would allow it to open doors and interact with its environment. While not the first centaur-like robot, it would certainly become the most capable of its type (a consortium of Japanese companies created a centaur robot for nuclear plant inspection in 1983-1990, and KIST developed this one in 1999). There are also plans to add a sensor head (stereoscopic vision and laser) in the future.
Video (2012, walking outside):