Boston Dynamics has already developed a robot that can maintain its balance in uneven terrain involving a four-legged robot called BigDog. Now, the company through a third-party technology has just achieved the same feat but this time it involves a humanoid robot.
The new development is attributed to an algorithm developed by the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition Robotics Lab in Florida, which allows humanoid robots advanced control techniques in order to maintain balance.
The robotic project is part of the IHMC's entry to the DARPA Robotics Challenge, a competition seeking to advance robotics in the area of disaster response.
The technology has enabled the bipedal robot called Atlas to balance itself not just on an uneven surface but on one that is constituted by different shapes and sizes .
"While great strides have recently been made in robotics, robots still cannot get to the same places that people can," the IHMC said. "Our humanoid projects are focused on enabling our bipedal humanoids handle rough terrain without requiring onboard sensors to build a model of the terrain."
The Science Behind Robotic Balance And Control
The researchers addressed the challenge of bipedal walking by having the robot explore the surface first.
"After a step is taken, the robot explores the new contact surface by attempting to shift the center of pressure around the foot," the researchers stated in a published paper detailing the walking technique. "The available foothold is inferred by the way in which the foot rotates about contact edges and/or by the achieved center of pressure locations on the foot during exploration."
Atlas Robot In Action
The video below demonstrates how the robot walks and balances itself atop cinder blocks. It initially looks easy but the efficacy and even grace by which Atlas navigates the surface is astounding given two factors.
First, the robot weighs 330 pounds, so that act of balancing itself via the workings of gears and bolts on its joints and the effect of gravity on such weight makes the feat quite impressive, indeed.
Second, there is the fact that the robot has no prior knowledge of the surface. It is effectively navigating the path for the first time and it was achieved without toppling over.
The DARPA competition that the IHMC is participating in does not require the robot to be humanoid as long as it will be compatible with human operators and useful in disaster relief operations. IHMC researchers, however, decided to use Atlas because his human-like form is best suited for environments built for humans.