Researchers train bipedal robots to step lightly over rough terrain

Researchers train bipedal robots to step lightly over rough terrain
Researchers at the Hybrid Robotics Group at UC Berkeley and CMU are hard at work making sure their robots don’t fall over when tiptoeing through rough terrain. Using machine learning and ATRIAS robots, the teams are able to “teach” robots to traverse stepping stones they’ve never seen before.
Their robots, described here, are unique in that they are bipedal and use a mixture of balance and jumping to ensure they don’t tip off the blocks.
“What’s different about our methods is that they allow for dynamic walking as opposed to the slower quasi-static motions that robots tend to use,” write the researchers. “By reasoning about the nonlinearities in the dynamics of the system and by taking advantage of recent advances in optimal and nonlinear control technology, we can specify control objectives and desired robot behaviors in a simple and compact form while providing formal stability and safety guarantees. This means our robots can walk over discrete terrain without slipping or falling over, backed by some neat math and some cool experimental videos.”
The robots are currently “blind” and can’t use visual input to plan their next move. However, with a robot called CASSIE, they will be able to see and feel the stones as they hop along, ensuring that they don’t tip over in the heat of fun… or battle.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

This robotic hose-dragon could jet its way into burning buildings

This robotic hose-dragon could jet its way into burning buildings
While hose-toting drones may be a fantasy, hose-powered robo-dragons (or robotic hose-dragons — however you like it) are very much a reality. This strange but potentially useful robot from Japanese researchers could snake into the windows of burning buildings, blasting everything around it with the powerful jets of water it uses to maneuver itself.
Yes, it’s a real thing: Created by Tohoku University and Hachinohe College, the DragonFireFighter was presented last month at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation.
It works on the same principle your hose does when you turn it on and it starts flapping around everywhere. Essentially your hose is acting as a simple jet: the force of the water being blasted out pushes the hose itself in the opposite direction. So what if the hose had several nozzles, pointing in several directions, that could be opened and closed independently?
Well, you’d have a robotic hose-dragon. And we do.
The DragonFireFighter has a nozzle-covered sort of “head” and what can only be called a “neck.” The water pressure from the hose is diverted into numerous outlets on both in order to create a stable position that can be adjusted more or less at will.

It requires a bit of human intervention to go forwards, but, as you can see, several jets are pushing it that direction already, presumably at this point for stability and rigidity purposes. If the operators had a little more line to give it, it seems to me it could zoom out quite a bit farther than where it was permitted to in the video.
For now it may be more effective to just direct all that water pressure into the window, but one can certainly imagine situations where something like this would be useful.
DragonFireFighter was also displayed at the International Fire and Disaster Prevention Exhibition in Tokyo.
One last thing. I really have to give credit where credit’s due: I couldn’t possibly outdo IEEE Spectrum’s headline, “Firefighting Robot Snake Flies on Jets of Water.”

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Robot posture and movement style affects how humans interact with them

Robot posture and movement style affects how humans interact with them
It seems obvious that the way a robot moves would affect how people interact with it, and whether they consider it easy or safe to be near. But what poses and movement types specifically are reassuring or alarming? Disney Research looked into a few of the possibilities of how a robot might approach a simple interaction with a nearby human.
The study had people picking up a baton with a magnet at one end and passing it to a robotic arm, which would automatically move to collect the baton with its own magnet.
But the researchers threw variations into the mix to see how they affected the forces involved, how people moved and what they felt about the interaction. The robot had two types each of three phases: movement into position, grasping the object and removing it from the person’s hand.

For movement, it either started hanging down inertly and sprung up to move into position, or it began already partly raised. The latter condition was found to make people accommodate the robot more, putting the baton into a more natural position for it to grab. Makes sense — when you pass something to a friend, it helps if they already have their hand out.
Grasping was done either quickly or more deliberately. In the first condition the robot’s arm attaches the magnet as soon as it’s in position; in the second, it pushes up against the baton and repositions it for a more natural way to pull out. There wasn’t a big emotional difference here, but opposing forces were much less in the second grasp type, perhaps meaning it was easier.
Once attached, the robot retracted the baton either slowly or more quickly. Humans preferred the former, saying that the latter felt as if the object was being yanked out of their hands.
The results won’t blow anyone’s mind, but they’re an important contribution to the fast-growing field of human-robot interaction. Soon there ought to be best practices for this kind of thing for when we’re interacting with robots that, say, clear the table at a restaurant or hand workers items in a factory. That way they’ll be operating with the knowledge that they won’t be producing any unnecessary anxiety in nearby humans.
A side effect of all this was that the people in the experiment gradually seemed to learn to predict the robot’s movements and accommodate them — as you might expect. But it’s a good sign that even over a handful of interactions a person can start building a rapport with a machine they’ve never worked with before.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

These robotic skiers hit the slopes in style

These robotic skiers hit the slopes in style
 Researchers took part in the Ski Robot Challenge last month and the resulting videos – essentially quick cuts of robots in ski jackets totally whanging off the gates and spinning out in the powder. The Challenge, run by the Korea Institute for Robot Industry Advancement, is sort of a Winter Olympics for wonky androids. The rules are pretty complex. According to Spectrum: Each robot must… Read More

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch