MIT is Building a Dynamic, Acrobatic Humanoid Robot

This small-scale humanoid is designed to do parkour over challenging terrains


Rendering: MIT


For a long time, having a bipedal robot that could walk on a flat surface without falling over (and that could also maybe occasionally climb stairs or something) was a really big deal. But we’re more or less past that now. Thanks to the talented folks at companies like Agility Robotics and Boston Dynamics, we now expect bipedal robots to meet or exceed actual human performance for at least a small subset of dynamic tasks. The next step seems to be to find ways of pushing the limits of human performance, which it turns out means acrobatics. We know that IHMC has been developing their own child-size acrobatic humanoid named Nadia, and now it sounds like researchers from Sangbae Kim’s lab at MIT are working on a new acrobatic robot of their own.

We’ve seen a variety of legged robots from MIT’s Biomimetic Robotics Lab, including Cheetah and HERMES. Recently, they’ve been doing a bunch of work with their spunky little Mini Cheetahs (developed with funding and support from Naver Labs), which are designed for some dynamic stuff like gait exploration and some low-key four-legged acrobatics.

In a paper recently posted to arXiv (to be presented at Humanoids 2020 in July), Matthew ChignoliDonghyun KimElijah Stanger-Jones, and Sangbae Kim describe “a new humanoid robot design, an actuator-aware kino-dynamic motion planner, and a landing controller as part of a practical system design for highly dynamic motion control of the humanoid robot.” So it’s not just the robot itself, but all of the software infrastructure necessary to get it to do what they want it to do.

First let’s talk about the hardware that we’ll be looking at once the MIT Humanoid makes it out of simulation. It’s got the appearance of a sort of upright version of Mini Cheetah, but that appearance is deceiving, says MIT’s Matt Chignoli. While the robot’s torso and arms are very similar to Mini Cheetah, the leg design is totally new and features redesigned actuators with higher power and better torque density. “The main focus of the leg design is to enable smooth but dynamic ‘heel-to-toe’ actions that happen in humans’ walking and running, while maintaining low inertia for smooth interactions with ground contacts,” Chignoli told us in an email. “Dynamic ankle actions have been rare in humanoid robots. We hope to develop robust, low inertia and powerful legs that can mimic human leg actions.”


Read the full article here

An article by Evan Ackerman for IEEE Spectrum




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