Although we've been seeing a lot of robots that are designed to deliver packages to people's homes, most of those bots are stymied by houses' front steps. Tokyo-based Amoeba Energy is developing a solution, in the form of a tracked robot that uses soft foam to easily climb up stairs and over other obstacles.
Demonstrated last week at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation, the current Amoeba prototype features Caterpillar-like tracks made of spongey but durable EPDM (ethylene propylene diene monomer) material.
"The track itself is made out of soft material, so it can deform itself according to the shape of any kind of stairs," chief engineer Yusei Kujirai told us. "That helps it maximize the contact surface, making it very stable."
So far, the EPDM has withstood five months worth of tests and demos, showing little wear. And while the robot's motor, battery pack and other electronics are all hard, its body is also covered in a soft foam. This feature is included to protect people who may be near the robot, in the event that it takes a tumble.
Looking at the thing, applications such as disaster site reconnaissance spring to mind. First and foremost, however, deliveries are what's being envisioned.
"Amazon is trying to create a last-mile delivery robot, but it cannot really climb up and down the stairs, so there is still a human that is needed to pick the things up from in front of their houses," said Kujirai. "We believe that our soft and human-friendly robot that can climb stairs would be the final piece to finish the whole automation of delivery."
Amoeba is now working on an autonomous commercial version of the robot, called the AE-01, which will be able to carry a payload of up to 6 kg (13 lb). It's pictured above, and could enter production as soon as next year.
In the meantime, you can see the prototype in stair-climbing action, in the following video.
Company website: Amoeba Energy
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