These Next Gen Walking Robots Could Someday Help Paraplegics

Wednesday, 12 December 2018 - 11:18AM
Robotics
Wednesday, 12 December 2018 - 11:18AM
These Next Gen Walking Robots Could Someday Help Paraplegics
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Screenshot: CNET/YouTube
Some tech projects exist so that engineers can prove to themselves and the world that an idea is possible. Others are developed out of a desire to help people. CNET recently stopped by Caltech's Amber Lab to meet researchers who are building and teaching robots to walk like humans so that they can one day help paralyzed humans walk. 

Through building various robots and putting them through extensive tests, Caltech mechanical and civil engineering professor Dr. Aaron D. Ames and a team at Amber Lab hope to learn more about how  to make them move more naturally and efficiently. The goal is not to build an army of impressive running robots, but to someday apply what they learn to medical devices. "Every time we achieve a behavior like walking or running, we'd like to put that on a prosthetic device and ultimately an exoskeleton for a paraplegic," Dr. Ames said. "We would like to have [a paraplegic] get up and walk with the same kind of algorithms that we're using on our walking robots." 



One of team's creations is the controller for a semi-autonomous bipedal robot called Cassie, which looks like the hind legs of a gazelle, only painted orange. Developed by Agility Robotics, the legs are made of carbon fiber and there are 10 motors and 2 onboard computers that allow it to be untethered to move around the real world. Cassie hasn't quite mastered walking over roots yet, but then again neither have we. It's learning from the attempts that really matters. "It's that idea of getting robots into doing things that are sort of at the apex of human capability, whether it's handling different terrain, or moving very quickly," Dr. Ames told CNET. "Those are kind of the two fronts, I think, as a robotic community we are shooting for."

Like we've seen with robots from Boston Dynamics, a part of that testing involves pushing the robots around to test their stability and their ability to adapt and course correct (though the disturbance testing at Amber Lab seems way less aggressive). Before making changes to the bots themselves when something doesn't work out smoothly, the engineers at Amber Lab go back to the drawing board. "We come back to the basic science and then iterate through the math and the algorithms to try it again," Ames said. Some of what they have already learned is being put to use in the Ampro 3 leg prosthetic, which CNET also got to check out in the video below.

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