Robots Evolve into Today's
by Tom Carroll
Just as man's ancestors began to walk on two
legs, robot experimenters decided over a decade
ago that a bipedal humanoid robot was the holy
grail of robotics. Science fiction movies always
showed robots as two-legged walking creations.
Of course, before computer graphics imaging,
movie producers had to use human actors in
robot suits to portray robots on the screen. The
earliest bipedal robots used a shuffling gait
wherein each of the robot's feet never left the
floor, but just slid on one foot and then the next.
Another walking method used two "U" shaped
feet that always kept the robot's center-of-gravity
supported. Once the advanced walking and
balance mechanics were solved and gyros and
accelerometers dropped in cost, the sky became
the limit for experimental humanoid robots.
FIGURE 1. Vision of a DARPA robotics challenge.
The Defense Advanced Research
Projects Agency (or DARPA) has long
been in the forefront of advanced
robotics development. Hang a couple
of million dollars of incentive in front
of any talented group, and creative
juices begin to flow. After the
successes of its several autonomous
full-sized Grand Challenge road vehicle
contests, DARPA has now turned to
the development of life-sized
The DARPA Robotics Challenge
(or DRC) requires that the contestant’s
entries drive a standard human-sized
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utility vehicle, travel across and
through rubble, open and close
standard human doors, manipulate
power tools to break through
concrete, locate and replace a large
water pump, and even climb ladders.
The goal is not to prove that robots
can do the same things that humans
can, but to advance robotics
technology to the point that humans
can be spared the inherent dangers
incurred in future disaster scenarios.
Figure 1 shows an imagined
scenario from Electronics Products
Magazine of two robots cleaning up a
disaster situation. The green stuff
pouring down is just a visual image of
some of the hazards that clean-up
teams face when responding to
disasters. Radiation, toxic materials,
Atlas for DRC.
explosives, falling debris, and fire are
some other hazards.
Figure 2 is a depiction of Boston
Dynamics’ Atlas humanoid entrant