Robotics

MIT's control vest for robots helps heavy-lifting droids stay balanced

MIT's control vest for robots ...
The vest provides force feedback between the operator and robot
The vest provides force feedback between the operator and robot
View 4 Images
The vest provides force feedback between the operator and robot
1/4
The vest provides force feedback between the operator and robot
Little HERMES being put through its paces
2/4
Little HERMES being put through its paces
Joao Ramos, professor of Mechanical Science & Engineering
3/4
Joao Ramos, professor of Mechanical Science & Engineering
HERMES and Little HERMES
4/4
HERMES and Little HERMES

Engineers at MIT and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are developing a teleoperated robot that uses a special operator vest to give it human-like balance and reflexes. Called Little Highly Efficient Robotic Mechanisms and Electromechanical System (HERMES), the small-scale bipedal robot is a third of the size of an adult person and can run, jump, and mostly move in sync with the operator.

When it comes to dealing with disasters, robots have a lot of obvious attractions as responders and rescuers, but there's still a long way to go before we see humanoid robotic firefighters dashing into collapsed burning buildings.

One of the biggest problems is that though robots today can run, jump, and do backflips like a parkour artist, they are still terrible at balancing. So if a bipedal robot tries something like forcing open a door, it's very likely to simply slip and end up on the floor.

Little HERMES being put through its paces
Little HERMES being put through its paces

This is because, although we do them every day without thinking, tasks like standing, walking, running, and forcing open a door or swinging a hammer are actually very complex processes of balancing forces, centers of gravity and centers of pressure.

To help bipedal robots keep their balance and "root" themselves to handle vigorous activities, University of Illinois mechanical science and engineering professor João Ramos and Professor Sangbae Kim at MIT developed Little HERMES.

"We were motivated by watching the 2011 Tohoku, Japan, earthquake, tsunami and subsequent Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant disaster unfold," says Ramos. "We thought that if a robot could have entered the power plant after the disaster, things could have ended differently. This incident was a wake-up call for the robotics community."

Joao Ramos, professor of Mechanical Science & Engineering
Joao Ramos, professor of Mechanical Science & Engineering

The key to Little HERMES is a forced feedback mechanism. The operator wears a vest that not only makes the robot move in sync with the operator, but also allows the operator to feel the forces working on the robot in near real-time and react instinctively – sharing the human sense of balance with the machine.

Key to this is a vest worn by the operator that pushes and tugs as the robot loses it balance. In such circumstances, the operator reflexively compensates and so does the machine. This means it can not only walk and stand with more confidence but to also brace itself to push or use a tool.

“If the robot begins to fall, the operator feels a push in that direction through the vest,” Ramos said. “Naturally, the operator's reaction is to take a step to balance themselves, and the robot does the same, synchronously, preventing it from tipping over.”

Currently, Little HERMES works by direct wire control, though the next step is to introduce wireless control as well as expanding the scope of the forced feedback technology.

HERMES and Little HERMES
HERMES and Little HERMES

"We also plan to develop robot-to-human force-feedback devices to other parts of the body like the feet and hands," says Ramos. "Additionally, everything we have developed so far is not constrained to bipedal robots; any of the technology transfers easily to other mobile systems like quadrupedal and wheeled robots."

The research was published in Science Robotics.

The video below shows Little HERMES in action.

Dynamic locomotion synchronization via bilateral feedback teleoperation

Sources: University of Illinois, MIT

0 comments
There are no comments. Be the first!