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Robotics

Animal Robots 114

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the this-means-something dept.
hamlet2600 writes "The New York Time is running an article all about how animal like robots [Soul Sucking registration required] are beginning to become more imporant in furthering research. For years reseachers have been trying to make humanoid robots, Honda's ASIMO, MIT's M2 are some notable ones. It seems that more and more researchers are turning to the animal kingdom for "simpler" means of locomotion."
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Animal Robots

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  • toys will be awesome (Score:1, Interesting)

    by abaybas (630833) on Thursday September 16, 2004 @09:04AM (#10264950)
    When I think about it, my kids will most probably be playing with animated robotic Barbies, GIJoes, and T-Rex's. Man am I jealous..
  • by Gargon the Rat (414111) on Thursday September 16, 2004 @09:04AM (#10264951)
    Every neuroscience conference I go to has at least one or two animal like robots.
  • by nanojath (265940) on Thursday September 16, 2004 @09:15AM (#10265044) Homepage Journal
    When I first read the article description I thought it said a NY Times article "all about how animalS like robots," and I thought, well that's BS - my friends have a roomba and their dog HATES and FEARS that thing. Whenever it goes into action it's total stress (and barking) time.
  • Re:Missing option... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jstave (734089) on Thursday September 16, 2004 @09:20AM (#10265086)
    Check out this [sciencenews.org] article in Science News recently. They're investigating the way various aquatic animals move through the water. One of these is, in fact, the penguin, for its agility and manuverability in the water.
  • by bigattichouse (527527) on Thursday September 16, 2004 @09:26AM (#10265126) Homepage
    ahh, to own a superfast "rat-thing" (not to spoil the plot)
  • by StevenHenderson (806391) <stevehenderson@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Thursday September 16, 2004 @09:27AM (#10265134)
    Oh, don't worry, I have a dog (I adopted him from a shelter). Dogs end up at places like that because it is a lot of work to own one. I know there are a ton of people who are not responsible enough to own them, and maybe a robot dog would be a nice alternative for said people.
  • Mind over Matter (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Evil Schmoo (700378) on Thursday September 16, 2004 @09:45AM (#10265371) Homepage
    Well, the basic idea's been around in compsci and robsci for decades -- simple machines. The article suggests that researchers are trying to imitate certain species of existing animals, and while that is no doubt true, the point is much more basic. Animals adapt to their environs in the long run (evolution) and the short run (whatever short-term evolution is called). Copying evolutionary development (ie, the long run adaptation) is really rather pointless, unless you want a robot to perform exactly as a lobster does under the sea.

    If, on the other hand, you wish to use some of the lobster's physical and electromechanical techniques to create a robot that can respond to its environment independently of its controller, then you may have something worthwhile. The dramatic success of the Mars rovers, AFAIK, is due in large part to their adaptable mobility, the main impulse paths for which were copied from insects (ants?).

    So, it seems to me that article misses the point -- it's not the physical structures of animals, but the neural processes that guide them, that researchers are so giddy about copying.

    Peace, Love, and Soul.
  • M2 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Xeo2 (301694) on Thursday September 16, 2004 @10:28AM (#10265903) Homepage Journal
    I actually spent this last summer working on M2, so I can tell you a little about how it works. M2 was designed to make use of two nifty ideas, the first being Series-Elastic Actuators (photo [mit.edu])and the other being Virtual Model Control link to pdf journal article [birg2.epfl.ch]).

    The series elastic actuators are meant to simulate the interaction of a human muscle-tendon-bone system, and to allow for the design of a low-impedance system. M2 is designed to actually mimic the inherent low-impedence (low-stiffness) mechanical system that people represent. People are really awful at position based/high-impedance control, which is what most traditional robots use. This is useful for manufacturing, when you want the robot arm to always put the bolts in the same place, but leads to stereotypical "robot" movement (like the guy spastically jerking around on the dance floor). People are pretty good at force control though (there are all sorts of biological reasons for this). So M2 was built to be low-impedance like a person by using these S-A Actuators.

    Virtual Model Control is supposed to allow more a more intuitive control of a robot by simulating it as a mechanical system. VMC lets you basically define springs and dampers at different points which are then simulated by the actuators. So to keep M2 standing, you might make a granny-walker out of springs, and to make it walk you could "attach" a spring to its chest pulling it forward. VMC has been implemented in simulation (where it works great), but it's not quite ready in real life.

    The really cool thing about M2 is its potential. It already moves much more fluidly and naturally than any other robot out there, and its not nearly done yet. Once its working properly, it'll be able to walk essentially blindly (becuase its low impedance) like a person, rather than needing to know exactly where to place each foot (*cough*ASIMO*cough*) to keep from shattering itself.

    If anyone has any other questions about how M2 actually works, I'd be happy to answer them.

    -Zach

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