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Bipedal robot with jet-powered feet able to cross wide gaps, signals the development of more human-like AI

There are many different types of autonomous robots in use all over the world today. However, although they tend to use a wide variety of designs, few of them can be considered bipedal, as walking on two feet is simply far too difficult a skill for robots. But there may be hope that this will no longer be the case in the future.

Researchers from the Guangdong University of Technology‘s School of Automation have reportedly developed a system that allows a bipedal robot to cross wide gaps through the use of small, mounted jet engines. These allow the robot’s legs to seemingly glide right across any gaps that it might need to overcome, which means that the simple act of walking could benefit greatly from the same type of move as well.

It is said that the researchers used small ducted fans for their method, and embedded them in the feet of their experimental robot. They based their work on the idea that you need to change the center of gravity of a robot to help it balance while it takes steps on its own.

According to Zhifeng Huang, one of the roboticists that worked on the project, they got a lot of inspiration from known science fiction and simply set out to apply theoretical solutions to the real world. “We were more or less inspired by science fiction. In fact, we considered this idea two years ago, when we noticed the mobility limitation of humanoid robots when going through rubble and debris in an earthquake aftermath scenario,” he explained. “It’s difficult for a bipedal robot to step over large obstacles, since extending the legs too much would disrupt the static balance condition, which requires the robot’s center of mass to be projected inside the support area of its foot.”

Huang added that certain dynamic motions, like jumping, could be seen as a solution. But they would be unsuitable for irregular terrain, which is how they ended up implementing a different type of solution instead. (Related: Robots could take over 3.4 million human jobs thanks to Amazon Go’s new grocery stores.)

Huang also admitted that the jet engines they added to the feet of their bipedal robot aren’t necessarily acting as actual thrusters in the current setup. Instead, they simply act to help the robot to keep its balance while going through various postures. The system is so effective that even without an upper body, the robot can successfully step over broad gaps as wide as 45 cm in width and up to 97 percent of its leg length.

With all of that said, there are still many ways to improve on the current design and methods implemented by the roboticists. Some examples involve tweaking the power source used by the jet engines or perhaps the robot itself, as well as the precision feedback control of the thrust, according to the researchers. At some point, maybe they could add 3D-printing to their process too and use it to help save time, money, and effort on gathering materials. All of this would make robots that much closer to becoming more like humans.

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