Boston Dynamics’ Spot robots are grabbing headlines as a number of them get deployed to help address new limitations brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. This may have generated more interest in quadruped robots but Spot easily costs more than $50,000 and developing your own usually takes years and several teams working together. If you don’t mind crediting someone else’s work, engineers from the US and Germany have come up with a four-legged robot designed to be a platform that others can build on.
The only things that this Solo 8 robot from the NYU Tandon School of Engineering and the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Tübingen and Stuttgart have in common withs Spot are that they both have four legs and are the size of dogs. Comparing spot to a dog has always been a stretch and even more so with Solo 8. This robot doesn’t even have a discernible head!
Looks can be deceiving, as they say, and what Solo 8 lacks in looks and sophistication, it makes up for in accessibility and openness. The robot’s parts can be 3D printed, something most research centers have, or bought off the shelf. More importantly, the construction files themselves are available under an open source license, allowing researchers (or even companies) to build upon the teams’ experiences and studies.
Solo 8’s construction is lightweight, just over 2 kilos, but its flexibility is rather remarkable. If it falls on its back, it simply has to rotate its legs so that its underside becomes its new top, something that’s easier if you have no formal front or top anyway. Using torque-controlled motors and virtual rather than mechanical springs, the robot can be easily reprogrammed to adjust the “spring’s” stiffness as needed.
Don’t expect it to take on Spot in the field, though. Solo 8 is specifically designed for the more controlled environments of laboratories and research institutes. It could, however, be the indirect source of a new breed of quadruped robots that will become the go-to prototype of many engineers and researchers in the near future.