Researchers at Germany’s Bielefeld University did something crazy, and a little funny too. They have built a giant robot insect with six independently moving legs in order to study movement over various terrain. But that’s not the crazy/funny part. It’s that in order to design the robot, they actually motion captured a real stick insect walking and climbing, using a bunch of those little balls you always see attached to actors when they make CG movies. Oh, and they named the robot Hector.
In the demo video below, you can see a test of Hector making its way across some sample terrain made of loose gravel. You can see the motion captured stick insect too. The 3-foot long robot’s movement patterns were directly inspired by the real bug, and its 18 elastic joints and ultralight skeleton will help the Bielefeld University researchers better test hypotheses on insect mobility.
An impressive number of research backgrounds came together during the three years of Hector’s development, including computer science, engineering, biology, and physics. As a result, the robot knows how to prevent itself from becoming unstable or falling over by not having too many legs in the air at the same time. As researcher Jan Paskarbeit put it, “All sub-systems have to communicate with each other for the robot to walk.”
Hector is also equipped with sensors that allow each independently moving leg to detect potential obstacles and change direction while already in motion. But the researchers say they aren’t finished developing Hector, as the next steps involve attaching lateral cameras and insect-inspired tactile sensors.