Japanese Researchers Create Robots that Tumble for a Purpose

Image: University of Tokyo

TV shows, such as “Robot Wars,” “Rosie the Robot,” or even “The Six Million Dollar Man,” gave viewers a preconceived notion of what robots should look like and what they should be able to do⎯walk and move with the ease of humans. But getting a robot from napkin sketch to fully functioning is not only difficult, giving it the ability to function physically more like humans can be maddeningly complex.

Tokyo-based roboticists are spending a tremendous amount of money and time trying to teach large  humanoid robots the basic ability humans learn as toddlers, which is to avoid falling over.

They rejoice every time there’s the smallest incremental bit of progress towards success, because not falling over is super hard, especially if you want your robot to be doing something useful. Led by Kei Okada and Masayuki Inaba, a team from the University of Tokyo and Kawasaki Heavy Industries is working on their own life-sized humanoid robot. They’ve come up with a new strategy for not worrying about falls: not worrying about falls. Instead, they’ve built robots from the ground up with an armored structure that makes it safe to fall over and getting right back up again without being damaged.

The robot examples below show the types of models that can take a beating, fall down and get up again. Preventing the expensive technology from breaking has been the main focus of armoring the robots.

Read more at spectrum.ieee.org.