Scientists have recently introduced a humanoid robot created for the noble purpose of emergency response.
A team out of the Italian Institute of Technology and University of Pisa, developed an anthropomorphic robot designed to operate human tools – with hopes of being useful in search and rescue operations that are too risky for humans.
Walk-Man the robot is touted to operate within damaged structures and perform tasks such as lifting collapsed masonry.
Lead researcher Nikos Tsagarakis said that a robot with a form similar to humans can firmly grasp human-adapted tools and access areas or paths appropriate for the human body.
“[I]f you build a robot that has a very similar form, you need to adapt less the environment in order to have this robot operational within such a space," Tsagarakis said.
The Walk-Man, which debuted at the DARPA Robotics Challenge finals back in June, is over 6 feet tall, weighs 118 kilograms (260 pounds), and has an arm span of 2 meters (6.56 feet). The head contains a stereo vision system as well as a rotating 3D laser scanner to assist it in environmental sensing.
The robot – intended to demonstrate balance, locomotion, and similar capabilities seen in humans – can navigate well through tricky terrains using all its limbs.
Tsagarakis considered it a game-changer in humanoid technology, which is currently limited to using only the lower part of the body for balance. He noted that the upper body is also crucial, especially for passing through cluttered spaces and structural sections.
Researchers are now developing algorithms for quicker manipulation abilities, paired with reflexive behavior that will let the robot survive uneven paths and cope with fast start-and-stop gait transition.
While aimed to be operated autonomously, the humanoid robot will be controlled remotely by a human, particularly in the case of intricate problem solving. The robot will transmit data back to the operator, who will in turn decide on the robot’s next movement.
However, speed is not really the name of the game for the Walk-Man.
Tsagarakis explained that slow movements are best in structural settings that the robots will move in, such as in disaster sites, in order to reduce the likelihood of robots colliding with the environment.
“And the faster you move, the harder will be the impact forces,” he added.
This kind of robot technology is seen as a step ahead of animal-shaped and over-wheeled robots currently being used, as they are projected to be more easily integrated into society.