This Shape-Shifting Robot Can Teach Itself to Walk on Anything (No Humans Required)
If imagining Boston Dynamics' Atlas relentlessly chasing you down through the woods like a low-budget Terminator doesn't scare you, the new wave of door-opening, human-resisting headless robot dogs should, especially Tønnes F. Nygaard's new robot Dyret.
Like SpotMini, Dyret is a free-moving, four-legged robot that's main purpose is to walk around, but unlike the Boston Dynamics model, Dyret doesn't rely on complex, pre-programmed code to walk—it teaches itself.
Like a baby deer, Dyret starts out on any given surface wobbly and unsure of itself: it inevitably falls down a couple of times and takes some time to get a handle on its gait.
But given enough time, Dyret's programming starts to kick in—it's equipped with 'machine evolution' technology, which resembles normal machine learning, but with a twist.
Normally, a computer equipped with machine learning can pass data through a complex system of layers that resemble neuron connections, which allow it to make a decision or recognize a photo.
The system is then told how well it did and uses that information to make itself more efficient. If machine learning makes a computer better at thinking, Dyret's machine evolution makes it better at walking. The system starts randomly trying out different movement patterns and judging how successful it is at walking, then gauges how fast it's going and how stable a certain gait is.
The best part is that Nygaard can change the terrain on Dyret without telling it, and it will start adapting to that, too.
Even more amazing, Dyret's actual body can transform based on its environment and condition. Its legs are extendable, meaning that it can make them longer to move fast over flat carpeting, or shorter to cut through snow.
When its battery is low, it can switch to short legs and higher speeds to make the most of its remaining energy.
None of this is pre-programmed, either—Dyret learned how to do this by itself.
All of this brings us back to the most important question of all: If robots can learn to walk over uneven surfaces, open doors, and recognize pictures of stop signs, can they learn to love?