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This article was published on August 17, 2016

GOAT legs could keep robots upright over rough terrain

GOAT legs could keep robots upright over rough terrain
Bryan Clark
Story by

Bryan Clark

Former Managing Editor, TNW

Bryan is a freelance journalist. Bryan is a freelance journalist.

Most of the robots in existence are clumsy buffoons. Case in point:

As advanced as our robots have become, they’re mostly still lacking the very human ability to avoid falls by making seemingly negligible changes to speed, center of balance and range of motion. In short, it’s not the sort of thing you’d fear in a robot apocalypse. It’s hard to fear a robot that can’t walk over uneven terrain or slippery surfaces, after all.

Carnegie Mellon University student Simon Kalouche has other ideas. Kalouche’s leg is designed for maximum range of motion and easy force reduction. In other words, it can make some of the same micro-adjustments as humans when we’re attempting to walk over rough terrain and avoid falls. It uses a single motor and gear to create a highly dynamic range of motion — similar to that of a mountain goat.

Dubbed ‘GOAT’ (gearless omni-directional acceleration-vectoring topology), the system can shrink, grow and react to problems that could lead other robots to collapse.

Screen Shot 2016-08-17 at 1.16.55 PM

According to Kalouche:

Extra-terrestrial landscapes or a collapsed rubble environment, ubiquitous to war and disaster zones, will contain regions of highly rugged yet relatively level ground. In these environments using high bandwidth virtual compliance, made possible by low impedance actuators, will allow the robot’s legs to actively conform to the terrain producing a more efficient and swift mode of locomotion as compared to a statically stable crawling gait which requires accurate terrain mapping and explicit foot step planning.

To achieve mobility over such a broad set of terrain topographies – spanning structured and unstructured environments – an ideal robot will employ both static, highly stable motions (e.g. dexterous crawling, climbing, walking), as well as highly dynamic agility maneuvers (e.g. leaping, inertial reorientation, controlled landing; running; etc.) to optimally traverse the terrain at hand. Therefore, a capable legged robot must be both dexterous, for precise footstep placement, and dynamic, for running and jumping when obstacles are insurmountable by static gaits alone.

Put simply, Kalouche wants to make a robot that isn’t such a klutz. He’s well on his way.