The future may have big things in store for robots that will help humanity. Goals for robots include helping to rescue humans from a burning building, helping with chemical spills, and helping with any disaster that makes a location inaccessible to human responders. Before the dream of rescue robots can become a reality, the robots have to be able to perform physically demanding tasks.
While work on four-legged robots has been coming along, work on two-legged, humanoid robots has been slower. The challenge is in getting humanoid robots to be able to exert force or push against something without falling. MIT researchers working with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have developed a new method to control balance in a two-legged, teleoperated robot.
The team says that this is an essential step towards enabling a humanoid to carry out high-impact tasks in a challenging environment. The robot that the team uses looks like a machined torso with two legs. It’s remotely controlled by a human operator wearing a vest that transmits information about the human’s motion and ground reaction forces to the robot.
The vest allows the human to direct the motion of the robot and feel its motions. The vest allows the human operator to feel a corresponding pull and adjust in a way to re-balance themselves and the robot. Using the system, dubbed “balance feedback,” the researchers were able to remotely maintain the robot’s balance as it jumped and walked in place.
The team says that since the person controlling the robot can adapt and learn, the robot can perform motions that it’s never practiced before. Demonstrations have had the robot, called HERMES for Highly Efficient Robotic Mechanisms and Electromechanical Systems, pour coffee into a cup, chop wood with an ax, and handle a fire extinguisher to put out a fire.