New ultralight robot can walk like an insect

BERLIN, Dec 17: German scientists have developed a new ultralight robot studded with sensors that can walk like an insect and climb over objects.
Inspired by stick insect, the robot called Hector has passive elastic joints and an ultralight exoskeleton.
What makes the robot unique is that it is also equipped with a great number of sensors and it functions according to a biologically inspired decentralised reactive control concept: the Walknet.
In the future, Hector should serve as a platform for biologists and roboticists to test hypotheses about animal locomotion, researchers said.
One major aspect will be the fusion of large amounts of data from sensors so that the robot can walk more autonomously than before.
A further key issue will be the optimal coordination of movements by a robot with elastic drives.
“The way that the elasticity in Hector’s drives acts is comparable to the way that muscles act in biological systems,” said Professor Dr Axel Schneider from the Bielefeld University in Germany.
Hector has 18 joints. Through the biologically inspired elasticity of the drives, Hector can adapt flexibly to the properties of the surfaces over which it is walking.
“However, elasticity alone is not enough for Hector to be able to walk through a natural environment containing obstacles,” said Schneider.
“The challenge was to develop a control system that would coordinate the movements of its legs in difficult surroundings as well,” said Schneider.
Schneider’s colleague Jan Paskarbeit was responsible for developing and building the robot. He also programmed a virtual version of Hector in order to test experimental control approaches without damaging the robot.
“All sub-systems have to communicate with each other for the robot to walk without any difficulties,” said Paskarbeit.
“Otherwise, for example, Hector might have too many legs in the air at one time, become unstable, and fall over. Moreover, the legs have to be able to react to collisions with obstacles. We have dealt with this by implementing a reflex behaviour for climbing over objects,” said Paskarbeit.
By 2017, the walking robot will be equipped with additional abilities in a major project at the Cluster of Excellence Cognitive Interaction Technology (CITEC). (AGENCIES)

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