Flipper-legged robot runs, swims, and is ready to hit the bigtime
Back in 2013, we heard about an all-terrain walking robot known as RHex. Designed in a collaboration between McGill University and the University of Pennsylvania, it used six flipper-like legs to scamper around. Now, its successor is taking to the briny depths.
Called the Aqua2, the new robot is soon to be commercially manufactured by McGill spinoff company Independent Robotics.
It builds upon a previously-developed one-off aquatic version of Rhex, moving both across land and underwater. The robot has been tested to a depth of 36.5 m (120 ft), where it can operate either autonomously or by optical-tethered remote control.
Among its possible applications are marine environmental monitoring – it could be launched from the shore instead of from a boat, proceeding to walk into the water, swim over a coral reef, then walk back out. Recorded data would then be gathered from onboard cameras and other sensors.
The aluminum-bodied robot weighs in at 16.5 kg (36 lb), and can run for a claimed five hours on one eight-hour charge of its user-swappable 28.8-V/7.2-Ah lithium-ion battery. And while the prototype that we saw in Montreal at the 2019 International Conference on Robotics and Automation had six dual-purpose composite "legs," more swimming-efficient vinyl/steel-spring flippers can be substituted if it's going to only be used underwater – a place where it should be more eco-friendly than traditional remote-operated vehicles (ROVs).
"Most ROVs have propellers, which are much louder and disruptive, and also much more dangerous to marine life if they get too close," the company's Ian Karp told us at the show. "Our flipper-based mechanism is much quieter, and also is much safer for marine life."
Independent Robotics has been providing the robotics research community with Aqua2s for the past few years, but is now planning on producing them for a wider range of clients and purposes. Pricing will start at US$110,000.
You can see the robot in action, in the following video.
Product page: Aqua2