August 14, 2013
All-Terrain ‘Parkour Robot’ RHex Capable Of Jumping, Climbing
[ Watch the Video: University of Pennsylvania Unveils Acrobatic Robot ]
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe OnlineResearchers from the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) have created a new all-terrain, six-legged walking robot that has been specially designed with jumping and climbing capabilities that could help it complete military reconnaissance, rescue or supply transportation missions.
The robot is named RHex (pronounced “Rex” and short for “robot hexapod”), and according to its creators at the university’s Kodlab facility, it is a “biologically inspired hexapedal robot” that has been affectionately dubbed the “parkour robot.” The researchers have been using human free-runners to discover new ways for the robot to manipulate itself in order to overcome a variety of different obstacles.
In videos demonstrating its capabilities – which are available in both regular and “extended cut” versions – RHex is shown walking across multiple different types of terrain, flipping itself over, climbing on top of rocks and completing various other tasks.
RHex was first developed as part of a DARPA-funded collaboration more than a decade ago between several universities, in which experts began to ponder what it would take for robots to be able to traverse offroad terrain as well as animals do, according to Keith Collins of the Associated Press (AP).
[ Watch the Video: University of Pennsylvania Unveils Acrobatic Robot – Extended ]
“You look at any machine that's been built today, and almost any animal that you can imagine will outperform that machine," Penn electrical and systems engineering professor Daniel Koditschek, who has been involved in the project since day one, told Collins. He and graduate student Aaron Johnson are behind the latest version of RHex.
Johnson and Koditschek are also teaming up on an upgraded, lighter and more agile model for RHex. This enhanced robot, which would be known as XRL (X-RHex Lite), would be constructed from carbon fiber and would be capable of executing “double jumps, flips, and, through a combination of moves, even pull-ups,” the researchers said.
It would also be able to overcome taller obstacles by launching itself vertically, hooking its front legs on the edge of the object it is trying to overcome, and then dragging its chassis up and over, they added. The Kod*lab team reports that they have completed successful demonstrations of this maneuver multiple times under laboratory conditions.
Past versions of the robot included the original, known as Research RHex; EduBot, which was a version for use in classrooms; SandBot, which was an offshoot of EduBot used by researchers at Georgia Tech to study traveling over sand; and Desert RHex, a modified version of Research RHex deployed during desert terrain tests in the Mojave Desert in 2009. A commercial version, known as the Rugged RHex, is produced by Boston Dynamics, Inc.
Back on July 30, Johnson told CNET’s Amanda Kooser that the ultimate goal of the project is the development of “a robot that can go anywhere, even over terrain that might be broken and uneven.” He added that his team’s most recent advances on the RHex project “greatly expand the range of what this machine is capable of, as it can now jump onto or across obstacles that are bigger than it is.”