I thought it was just MIT’s cheetah bot, but as it turns out, all sans-head robotic animals are creepy AF. The latest addition, a four-legged robodog with its very own pet quadcopter, could be the next big thing in symbiotic robotic relationships.
Developed by the engineering teams at University of Michigan’s Robotics and Motion Laboratory (RAM Lab) and ETH Zürich’s Autonomous Systems Lab, The Springy Tetrapod with Articulated Robotic Legs, or StarlETH, was built to study efficient and versatile locomotion. Using a system of elastic actuators, StarlETH’s legs mimic how muscles store, release, and transfer energy, allowing it to perform dynamic walking and trotting over a slew of challenging terrains.
A real dog’s gait is made possible by three degrees of freedom: hip abduction, hip flexion, and knee flexion. Together, they allow movement in all directions. “Using this as inspiration, we designed a leg with a similar kinematic structure, which is driven by a system of electric motors,” explains the team. Like in the cheetah bot, these motors not only allow StarlETH to move quickly and precisely, but also without creating much noise.
Just like your brain sends neural signals to your muscles when you need to step or jump, StarlETH’s onboard computer system is able to send joint calculations to the motors at a rate of several hundred times per second. This means the bot can make the quick decisions necessary to avoid obstacles, or easily recover from a fall after tipping. (This would be the time to think up an alternative getaway strategy.)
“In the long term vision, our research will allow the development of systems that reach and even exceed the agility of humans and animals,” says RAM Lab. “It will enable us to build autonomous robots that can run as fast as a cheetah and be as enduring as a husky, while mastering the same terrain as a mountain goat.”
Exactly why the team have given the bot a quadcopter-lookout remains a mystery, but some have speculated the flying friend will help it see farther. A pairing like this could be beneficial in rescue-and-recovery missions, much like we saw with last year’s robotic “snake on a plane.”