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• HyQ

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.




• CENTAUR

KIST’s Humanoid Robot Research Center was established in 1994, and immediately began development of what is considered the country’s first humanoid robot. Some 15 PhDs and 70 researchers from various universities worked on the project, with some assistance from Hyundai Heavy Industries. Many, such as Dr. Munsang Kim, have continued to work on humanoid robots in the years since. The 8 billion KRW project (approximately $4.7 million USD at the time) was eventually completed in 1999.

It seems like more than just coincidence that they built CENTAUR following the Taejon Expo of ’93, where a nuclear inspection robot with a similar configuration appeared at the Japanese pavilion. In 1990 KAIST had built a quadruped walking robot called KAISER 2, but no bipedal robots had been developed in Korea, so CENTAUR relied on the stability provided by four legs. It was able to walk at a pace of 1 meter per minute, with its Lithium-ion battery lasting about 20 minutes.

CENTAUR stood 1.8 meters (5’11″) tall and weighed 150 kg (330 lbs), or 180kg (397 lbs) with its battery. It was said to contain 73 motors, 160 sensors, and 6 CPUs with a total of 37 degrees of freedom (mouth x1, neck x2, trunk x2, 2 arms x7, 2 hands x3, 4 legs x3). For complex tasks its upper-body could be teleoprated by a human wearing a special vest.

The ART Project’s Nuclear Inspection Centaur Robot

After the earthquake last year and the resulting damage to the Fukushima nuclear plant, observers criticized Japan’s lack of preparedness. In particular, many felt that the Japanese robotics sector’s focus on expensive humanoids had squandered time and resources better spent on more specialized robots.  However, this isn’t totally accurate.  The Japanese government, corporations, and universities have been working on robots for just this sort of problem for decades.  Back in the 1980s the Japanese government invested 20 billion JPY (still less than $100 million dollars at the time) into a massive eight-year program to build three types of advanced robots for hazardous environments.

The ART (Advanced Robotics Technology) Project had goals that were too big for any one institution to achieve, so a consortium called ARTRA (Advanced Robotics Technology Research Association) was formed. Financed and controlled by the Agency of Industrial Science and Technology, ARTRA brought two major government organizations, the Mechanical Engineering Laboratory (MEL; now known as AIST) and the Electrotechnical Laboratory (ETL), together with 18 corporations under the same banner, along with the support of academia.

The ART robots were designed for three major areas: nuclear plants, undersea oil rigs, and a third for disaster prevention in refineries.

The nuclear inspection robot would have a sensor head, four legs, two 7-DOF arms, and four-fingered hands with pressure sensitive finger tips (this configurarion led to it being known as the Centaur robot). It would be paired with a smaller, wall-climbing partner that used suction cups to adhere to wall surfaces. This would allow it to “climb up and down stairs, step over piping or other impediments, and relocate itself at high speed.”

It would have to work in 70 degrees (158 degrees Farenheit), 90% humidity, and 100 roentgens of radiation per hour. What started as a 1/3-scale model of the four-legged mechanism eventually became a robot measuring 188 cm (6’2″) tall, 127 cm (4’2″) long, and weighing 700 kg (1,543 lbs).

Video: Robonaut 2 Put To Work Aboard The ISS

NASA reports that Robonaut 2 began work aboard the International Space Station in mid-March of this year after being given the go-ahead by the crew and ground team.  Its assigned task: to check the air flow coming from vents inside the station. This particular job is normally done by the astronauts once every 90 days to ensure the vents haven’t gotten clogged.  According to NASA the measurements are sometimes difficult to obtain due to the zero gravity, and because an astronaut’s breath can affect the results.

Recently they published a video of the robot autonomously operating a control panel.  It has to recognize the panel’s array of buttons and switches and know how (and when) to interact with each of them.  The robot’s forearms have also been modified aboard the station with added heat sinks to allow it to perform longer.  These are small but important steps towards the realization of a robot that can perform tasks outside the comfort of the station.

Video:

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[source: NASA] via [Robots Dreams] via [Engadget]

• SWUMANOID

In what is almost certainly a world first, researchers Chung Changhyun and Motomu Nakashima at the Tokyo Institute of Technology have developed a robot that can faithfully reproduce a swimmer’s whole-body motion while measuring water resistance.  Called the SWUMANOID (Swimming Humanoid), its results are expected to be presented at the Aero Aqua-Biomechanisms Symposium (ISABMEC 2012) in Taiwan this August.

Although swimming is a popular sport, there’s still much to be discovered.  Normally researchers analyze video footage of a real swimmer, but the problem is repeatability.  The SWUMANOID can perform exactly how the researchers want it to, allowing them to repeat tests or make slight adjustments to better understand water resistance and propulsion.  Furthermore, the robot can wear a swimsuit to determine its impact – facilitating the development of performance-enhancing swimwear.

To create the robot, the researchers first performed a 3D body scan of a real person.  A 1/2 scale model was built using 3D printed parts.  The robot was then outfitted with 20 water-proof motors, and programmed the necessary motions to reproduce realistic crawl, breaststroke, backstroke, butterfly, and even dog paddling and treading water.

Due to its smaller size, the robot is slower than a real person.  It takes two minutes thirty-six seconds to swim a hundred meters.  In the future, the team would like to build a life-sized robot that will have even more degrees of freedom to better model real swimming.

Video:

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[source: TITECH Nakashima Lab (JP)] via [MyNavi News (JP)