Watch Robot Dog Take Big Step Forward By Using Paws For Non-Locomotion Tasks

Photo credit: Xuxin Cheng, Ashish Kumar, and Deepak Pathak

When is a robot dog not just a robot dog? Perhaps when it begins to use its paws for more than just walking.

For decades, quadrupedal robots have fascinated us, from ELSIE, the first mobile robot in history, to Boston Dynamics’ famous “BigDog“. These machines have showcased their incredible capabilities, such as traversing rough terrains, climbing steep inclines, and moving nimbly across various surfaces.

The impressive four-legged BigDog was able to traverse rough terrains such as forests, steep hills, deep snow, and piles of bricks. Despite these achievements, BigDog’s legs have been limited to locomotion tasks.

Unleashing the Potential: A New Breed of Robot Dog

Now, the latest advancements from the Carnegie Mellon and UC Berkeley researchers may change the game for quadrupedal robots. By teaching a robot dog called Unitree Go1 to use an Intel RealSense camera to not only walk–but also to press buttons and manipulate objects, they have opened up new possibilities for its deployment in everyday settings.

This intriguing milestone was presented in a research paper set to be unveiled at the International Conference of Robotics and Automation (ICRA 2023). The researchers managed to teach a quadrupedal robot–specifically the Unitree Go1 equipped with an Intel RealSense camera–to use its front limbs for tasks such as climbing walls and manipulating objects.

Mastering the Balancing Act: Combining Locomotion and Manipulation

To achieve this, the researchers identified two distinct skill sets required for their robot dog to perform its desired tasks: locomotion, which encompasses activities like walking and wall climbing, and manipulation, which involves using a single leg to interact with external objects while maintaining balance on the other three legs.

As IEEE Spectrum points out, these skill sets can often conflict, leading the robot dog to encounter computational problems. To resolve this issue, the researchers first trained the robot dog in simulations to handle both skill sets separately, then integrated them into a “robust long-term plan” by learning a behavior tree from “one clean expert demonstration,” according to their paper.

This advancement has far-reaching implications for the world of robotics. By developing cost-effective robot dogs capable of both movement and interaction, these machines can better navigate everyday environments.

Coupled with the robot dog’s ability to traverse diverse terrains like sand and grass, and even scale walls and ceilings, these versatile machines can become indispensable tools in various applications.

A prime example of this versatility is the Vision 60 Quadruped Uncrewed Ground Vehicle (Q-UGV) from Ghost Robotics. This robot dog features an amphibious adaptation called the Nautical Autonomous Unmanned Tail (NAUT), developed by Onyx Industries.

The NAUT system allows Vision 60 to propel itself through water using vectored thrust. This capability enables the robot dog to travel at speeds of up to three knots and operate at full power for approximately 35 minutes using a dedicated power source.

The Vision 60 is already being used by the Air Force for patrols around Florida’s Tyndall Air Force Base, where its legs allow it to navigate through muck and maintain surveillance.

A New Era of Paw-sibilities: The Future of Robot Dogs

A robot dog that can walk everywhere a human can is an impressive companion, but one that can also use its paws for non-locomotion tasks, scout ahead, and interact with its environment in ways previously unimaginable, is a powerful asset.

The full potential of these advanced robot dogs depends on their level of autonomy, but even a machine that can follow GPS waypoints on a control pad could provide invaluable assistance.

As we witness the remarkable progress in robot dog technology, one can’t help but wonder: what other tasks will these versatile machines be able to accomplish in the future? From defusing bombs to aiding in search and rescue missions, the possibilities seem endless for these versatile robots.


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