German Robotic Ape Shows Off Sophisticated Engineering Design

Michael Harper for – Your Universe Online
The German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) is following a growing line of robots influenced by nature and have developed a walking and balancing robotic gorilla. Rather than build a bot with a purpose in mind (like the robotic pack mule being developed in the States by DARPA), the DFKI’s “iStruct” ape seems to be built as a mere demonstration of sophisticated new engineering components.
The iStruct’s feet, for example, are built with sensors to keep it moving in sync and in a more natural way than other robotic animals. The new robot ape also boasts an actuated spine that is capable of movement, a departure from the solid steel backbones found in most other animal-like robots.
In an official statement, DFKI explained the goal behind the iStruct, saying the parts they’ve developed here can be used on other platforms to “improve the locomotion and mobility characteristics” of future bots.
“The intelligent structures to be developed contain a variety of functions which cannot only extend the already existing locomotion behaviors of robots, but also permit further relevant applications like the contemporaneous use as carrier and sensor system. This way, different functionalities are united in one construction unit.”
In a video, the iStruct is seen casually loping around in slow strides, moving forward at first before engaging a point turn. According to Discovery News, these seemingly simple actions are anything but easy from an engineering perspective. DFKI has packed the iStruct with 43 force and torque sensors, some of which reside in the heel of the machine. The robotic ape walks with a heel-toe step that is more akin to a human’s gait. As the robot walks, sensors in the heel are constantly measuring the distance to the ground to keep it balanced and upright.
An array of accelerometers also work in concert to keep iStruct together and moving in one direction while temperature sensors make sure the robot’s components don’t overheat and fail. The iStruct is also autonomous and is capable of moving on its own free of wires or tethers. A self-contained battery is packed on board and weighs about 40 pounds.
In a second video on the website, the iStruct is seen perched on all fours on a table. A researcher begins tilting the table like a seesaw to try to shake the iStruct from its position. The aforementioned sensors and accelerometers worked to let the bot move along with the table rather than fall off. This balancing capability, as well as its ability to walk smoothly and naturally, will allow the DFKI’s new primate robot to climb hills and tackle terrain other robots might shy away from.
DFKI says they received their funding from the Space Agency of the German Aerospace Center and the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology (BMWi). Although they didn’t build iStruct with a specific task in mind, it seems likely that parts of this technology could one day wind up moving robots along in outer space.
And this isn’t the first robotic primate we’ve seen, of course. A team of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC) developed the CHIMP (short for CMU Highly Intelligent Mobile Platform) earlier this year to compete in DARPA’s Robotics Challenge.
Unlike iStruct, the CHIMP gets around via tank-like treads on its feet and forearms. It’s also built with claws for hands and was built to aid in disaster relief.