We can not deny that articulated robots love us and that it is hypnotic to see what they are capable of doing. The Boston Dynamics are usually quite surprising (sometimes up to somewhat creepy levels), but those of MIT are not far behind and now have managed to build a “blind” robot capable of climbing stairs.
For the “vision” of the robots cameras and sensors that allow the machine to know what is around and calculate the distance to objects to move, dodge or interact with them are often used. But this time they have dispensed with lenses, getting the Cheetah 3 to be able to move without “seeing” and without losing balance.
Taking algorithms as eyes
How then does Cheetah 3 move? What they have done at MIT is to develop two new algorithms, one for contact detection and one for predictive control. The information that the robot receives to do it comes from gyroscopes, accelerometers and the position of the joints (with respect to themselves and with respect to the ground).
The first one helps the robot to determine the best moment to take a step and how to do it according to what is found, differentiating actions for example depending on whether a rock or a soft ground is found. What it does is calculate the probability of each leg to make contact with the ground, the force that applies when doing it and that of the leg being in flexion (the middle phase of a step), a calculation that does every 50 milliseconds (20 times per second).
The second algorithm helps you determine how much force to use for the actions. It is the one that helps you determine when to apply force and to what degree by calculating in a predictive way the positions of the robot in the later half second.
As we see in the video, Cheetah 3 is able to jump, climb stairs and move at various speeds. You can jog soft at 0.5 meters per second, jog more easily at 1.7 m / s, run at 2.75 m / s and gallop at 3 m / s (on a treadmill), although they do not leave the data of the maximum speed.
Cheetah 3 weighs 40 kilograms and is the result of the work of Sangbae Kim, associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT and his team. The researcher explains that the robot does not know the height of each step or if there are obstacles on the stairs, and that it simply opens the way maintaining the balance thanks to the algorithms.
Being strict, Cheetah 3 has taken cameras, so that the robot had a feedback of the surroundings and that helped to map them. But they were isolated tests, and the team preferred to focus on skills as “blind robot”, leaving the addition of cameras as a possibility in the future.
An assistant for what we like least
Sangbae Kim and his team believe that what has been achieved with Cheetah 3 can lead to robots being useful for tasks that humans prefer to avoid due to danger or difficulty. “Dangerous, dirty or difficult jobs” that could be done remotely, explains the researcher.
At the moment there is no marketing plan, as we saw in the case of SpotMini, the robot dog of Boton Dynamics. A robot that presents some similarity with this one at the level of articulations and that also left us quite curious videos, and that will go on sale next 2019.
The research will be presented in Madrid (Spain), at the International Conference of Intelligent Robots, where they will show all the movements that it is capable of doing also in comparison to the previous version (Cheetah 2). So there will be an opportunity to see it in action along with more robots from this and other organizations.