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Humanoid Robots For the Next DARPA Grand Challenge?

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the thank-you-very-much-mr-roboto dept.

Robotics 53

HizookRobotics writes "The official announcement should be out very soon, but for now here's the unofficial, preliminary details based on notes from Dr. Gill Pratt's talk at DTRA Industry Day: The new Grand Challenge is for a humanoid robot (with a bias toward bipedal designs) that can be used in rough terrain and for industrial disasters. The robot will be required to maneuver into and drive an open-frame vehicle (eg. tractor), proceed to a building and dismount, ingress through a locked door using a key, traverse a 100 meter rubble-strewn hallway, climb a ladder, locate a leaking pipe and seal it by closing off a nearby valve, and then replace a faulty pump to resume normal operations — all semi-autonomously with just 'supervisory teleoperation.' It looks like there will be six hardware teams to develop new robots, and twelve software teams using a common platform."

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The right time (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39594887)

With the nuclear disaster in Japan this seems like the right time to make the push in this direction. Lets hope that we have a winner in the next 10-15 years.

Re:The right time (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39595869)

Afghanistan.
Iraq.
The moon.
Mars.

These items have been calling LONG before a power plant.

And soon, we can add China to the list.

Bipedal humanoid (1)

danversj (2585159) | more than 2 years ago | (#39594905)

Is there such a thing as a non-bipedal humanoid design? Humanoid suggests bipedal, does it not?

Re:Bipedal humanoid (3, Insightful)

HizookRobotics (1722346) | more than 2 years ago | (#39594943)

This is a common misconception. In academia, "humanoid" will usually refer to a robot with _some_ humanoid features (eg. two arms). If you look at the "Humanoids" conference, you'll see that there are a healthy mix of legged and wheeled designs. So I thought specificity was good in this case...

Re:Bipedal humanoid (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39594963)

Humanoid suggests bipedal, does it not?

Not really:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Jetsons.jpg

Re:Bipedal humanoid (1)

h5inz (1284916) | more than 2 years ago | (#39595699)

Have you ever been so drunk that you just can't walk on your two feet? There your go.

Re:Bipedal humanoid (2)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 2 years ago | (#39596579)

A double amputee isn't human? A kangaroo is humanoid?

Humanoid Robot... (1, Funny)

BenJCarter (902199) | more than 2 years ago | (#39594959)

Excellent. Can we make one weighing 60 ton's armed with dual LBX-20's, a Large Clan Laser, and 4 C Streak SRM 6's, with 12 tons of extra ammo?

All aboard the Fail Bot... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39595029)

That would be awesome for all those situations in which you'd like to have a tank, only far slower, more cumbersome, and easier to disable.
Bonus points if you can also add the BattleTech universe's atrocious targeting computers and ridiculously unsafe, overheating nuke power plants.

Re:Humanoid Robot... (4, Interesting)

Sibko (1036168) | more than 2 years ago | (#39595261)

I am afraid not.

A 60 ton Clan chassis has enough tonnage available, (assuming it moves 1/2/0, has no armour, and utilizes an XL engine with endosteel internals) but lacks the internal critical space necessary to actually fit all of that. (Staring at the design right now in solaris skunkwerks [solarisskunkwerks.com] )

Two LBX20's and 4 cStreak6's are pretty hefty firepower though. Even for a Clan heavy. Also, 12 tons of ammo? That is enough for 45 turns of non-stop firing, most matches do not even last 16!

Now, I *could* build a custom mech from scratch that fits some of that, but I decided a better choice would be to take ye old venerable Mad Dog (Vulture for you Freebirths) chassis and rig it with the LBX autocannons, though I was worried it would not fit them AND the ammo. Thankfully, the Mad Dog's design principle follows the 'fuck armor, put more guns on it' school of thought.

I yanked the dual large pulse lasers and LRM20's from the prime variant, and jacked the heatsinks down to the base 12 (It is in no danger of overheating with just these autocannons). This gave me 28 tons to work with. 24 tons for the two LBX20's, and then 4 tons for the ammo. It is not the loadout I would personally take into battle with a Mad Dog, considering its armour, but for a daring young Trueborn out to claim a bloodname, I do not think it is bad.

A 5/8/0 movement curve (reaching ~80kph at a run), enough ammo to fire the autocannons for about 10 turns (1.7 minutes) before running dry, and just enough armour to keep you mostly intact as you close into range. At 1610 battle value (2222 BV with a 3/4 standard Clan Pilot) it is actually pretty dangerous for the price. I also made sure to mix the ammo types - 2 tons cluster and 2 tons slug so that you get your holepunching and sandblasting ability all in one. Additionally, I removed the upper arm actuators to clear out some of the internal crit space in the arms. So not only does the LBX20 assembly manage to fit in just the arm itself, but since it is entirely in the arm and the upper arm actuator has been removed, the arms themselves can completely flip around, making this design even more dangerous in a close quarters fight as you maneuver through a formation and fire *backwards* (Hopefully at the rear armour of your enemy.)

The significant downside to this design is the staying power. Light on armour (But then, all Mad Dog's are) and light on ammo. Once you run dry, there are no backup energy weapons, so you will be left adopting dezgra freebirth tactics like kicking your opponent to death. (*spit*)

Additionally, the design lacks anything to absorb hits in the torso. Any breach of the armour that scores a critical hit is going to either blow out an ammo bin and cripple the mech, or damage the fusion reactor. (Granted, a damaged fusion reactor on this design is not so bad - thanks to the low heat output of the cannons. Even with half the reactor shielding gone, this mech is still going to run cool.)

Re:Humanoid Robot... (1)

Ihmhi (1206036) | more than 2 years ago | (#39595927)

It's posts like this that make me appreciate Slashdot.

Re:Humanoid Robot... (1, Funny)

dissy (172727) | more than 2 years ago | (#39595967)

Two LBX20's and 4 cStreak6's are pretty hefty firepower though. Even for a Clan heavy. Also, 12 tons of ammo? That is enough for 45 turns of non-stop firing, most matches do not even last 16!

I don't think he intended to take that mech into battle. He's probably just upset at the neighbors dog and wanted to teach it a lesson. I have the same instinctive response with cats and areal vehicles for some reason *shrug*

Re:Humanoid Robot... (1)

cavreader (1903280) | more than 2 years ago | (#39596347)

At least until the get the 3 Laws implemented and working reliably. Until then arming a them would seem a little risky.

Re:Humanoid Robot... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39595271)

Hey freebirths,

My name is Marcos Radick of Clan Wolf and I hate every single one of you. All of you are lazy, unskilled, surats who spend every second of their day loafing around and failing at being warriors. You are everything bad in the inner sphere. Honestly, have any of you ever HAD a real mech of your own? I mean, I guess it is fun tripping over yourselves, but you all take it to a whole new level. This is even worse than an urbanmech lance engaging on open ground.

Do not be a stranger. Just hit me with your best large laser. I am pretty much perfect. I mean, I am a Star Colonel, I have killed more Clan warriors in honorable combat than you have guns on that stravag crap. How many warriors have YOU killed? I also operate a Timberwolf AND I have a banging hot Falconer for a Bondsman (She just blew me; Shit was SO cash). You are all freeborn scum who should just kill yourselves. Thanks for listening.

Re:Humanoid Robot... (1)

Ihmhi (1206036) | more than 2 years ago | (#39595941)

60 tons is an awful lot.

How about something around 10 tons? Maybe with a "Boxer" Shot Cannon. Adjust the bi-lateral angle to 3.5. And don't forget the Lambda driver!

Re:Humanoid Robot... (0)

mhajicek (1582795) | more than 2 years ago | (#39598107)

60 tons is a modern tank. Considering a mech is supposed to make tanks look like toy cars you're talking more like 600 tons minimum. If you assume the weight savings come from advanced materials, why not just use those materials on a tank? Besides, I prefer to mount three Clan AC-20's, fire linked in the torso of a Daishi with no arms.

Why little to no teleoperation? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39595011)

[A]ll semi-autonomously with just 'supervisory teleoperation.'

It seems like this would be far easier and far more broadly useful if you went the other way and tried to find a way to make it fully and naturally teleoperable by a person using a normal range of human movements, like a full-body waldo.

Re:Why little to no teleoperation? (3, Insightful)

Mr. Freeman (933986) | more than 2 years ago | (#39595121)

You'd think so, yes. Of course, DARPA isn't so much about making useful things as it is about spurring research that can be used to later create useful things. I suspect that's why they are going with a competition that no one will be able to complete in the next 3 years, and certainly not in a reasonable time frame.

This has happened before. It took two years before any competitor was able to even finish the off-road DARPA grand challenge, and that was just driving. A bi-pedal robot is orders of magnitude more complicated.

I predict that they're going to have to start each section of the race separately. They'll put the bot in the tractor, start the race. Then they'll move the bot to the door, start it again, etc. No way in hell anyone is going to be able to do these tasks in sequence. Some they probably won't be able to do at all.

I'll be worried when... (3, Funny)

Lord_of_the_nerf (895604) | more than 2 years ago | (#39595033)

...the last part of the course is 'how to love' and 'question whether or not the unit has a soul'.

Re:I'll be worried when... (2)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 2 years ago | (#39595051)

I would be fine with them dreaming of electric sheep but I would draw the line at giving them memories of fictional parents.

Re:I'll be worried when... (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 2 years ago | (#39597561)

We're talking about robots, not replicants.

Re:I'll be worried when... (2)

dissy (172727) | more than 2 years ago | (#39595985)

I'll be worried when ... the last part of the course is 'how to love' and 'question whether or not the unit has a soul'.

Installation of a soul is trivially easy, but the licensing costs are outrageous!

That's ambitious (4, Insightful)

Animats (122034) | more than 2 years ago | (#39595065)

This is very ambitious. Yet it's almost within reach, if enough money is thrown at the problem. A lot of money.

First, this requires solving low-speed legged locomotion over difficult terrain. Walking over rubble and climbing a ladder will be very tough. But it's not totally out of reach. A machine which can walk on either two or four limbs would be an advantage over rubble. Ladder climbing is a four-limb problem, and it's been done at least once. Grabbing the rungs with all limbs will make it easier.

Replacing a pump is an interesting problem. I don't think anyone has yet demonstrated complex part replacement in an unstructured environment. That's probably the least well developed part of the problem.

Building a suitable machine will be expensive. Each Boston Dynamics robot has cost upwards of $20 million. Even the Willow Robotics machine is over $100K per unit, and it's just two arms on a wheeled base. This thing has to have roughly human dimensions and be self contained. Petman isn't self-contained; it needs external power.

Yet, looking at the problem, I can see how to approach it. Modern control theory is good enough. Machine learning and vision processing are good enough. Simulators are good enough to allow debugging in simulation. Enough people know this stuff that the job can be staffed.

Re:That's ambitious (1)

Mr. Freeman (933986) | more than 2 years ago | (#39595137)

You can climb a ladder with two limbs. I'm sure it won't be graceful, but there's no physical reason you need four limbs to climb a ladder.

The ladder is easy, the entire thing can be solved before the robot even starts moving. The terrain isn't easy, but it's been done enough before to the point that it won't cause a huge amount of trouble. The real problems show up when trying to do things that humans use fine motor skills for. Operating screwdrivers, ratchets, a lot of actuation that has to be compliant to some degree. The tractor presents the same problems, attempting to grip the steering wheel won't be easy, but it's certainly easier than replacing any kind of pump.

As you mentioned, the self-containment issue is a big one. You've got to pack an enormous amount of processing power into a very small chassis and have enough energy left over to run your actuators. I bet we'll see some experimental batteries with stupidly high energy densities.

Re:That's ambitious (1)

Kell Bengal (711123) | more than 2 years ago | (#39595173)

The ladder is easy, the entire thing can be solved before the robot even starts moving.

You're obviously a CS guy. :)

Any real system has unmodelled mechanics, sensor noise and disturbances, all of which lead to uncertainty. You cannot "solve" the problem open-loop; you need feedback control and updates to your trajectory as you go, because over time your position will drift. And that's just for ladders. As you increase the problem to unstructured problems like walking on rubble or object manipulation, the difficulty increases by leaps and bounds. I agree that changing the pump will likely be the hardest part of the problem.

Re:That's ambitious (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39607009)

You're both lightweights. I solve these problems UNDERWATER... Without GPS.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xe1a1wHxTyo

Re:That's ambitious (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39595215)

Yet it's almost within reach, if enough money is thrown at the problem. A lot of money.

And that, my friend, is why DARPA deserves its funding.

Arguably if we could create another department with less fighting oriented science it would be better, but let's be real here. Even if that were created as a real equal to DARPA, it would be gutted in the next 2 to 3 administrations after its inception just like NASA.

Re:That's ambitious (1)

chrb (1083577) | more than 2 years ago | (#39595855)

You forgot the driving part. How is that going to be done? Just getting to the locked door is, in many ways, harder than the autonomous car challenge - the control and sensing has to be done completely from and by the humanoid robot, with limited power supply and (I would guess) not enough power/cpu/physical space to integrate as the advanced numerous sensors that the cars had. And instead of having the software wired in to the hardware control, the humanoid robot is going to have to drive using its limbs. That's a hard problem.

Re:That's ambitious (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39596367)

Well, it doesn't have to go very fast, does it? I think the tractor-controls-operating part isn't going to be a _huge_ problem. I'm thinking something like the souped up RC control servos that "The Myth Busters" use. The sensing part will be harder - as it appears that most driverless cars rely on LIDAR. It would be kind of lame to have the robots head contain a small LIDAR.. Much more elegant (but harder - although not impossible, viz. the Kinect) to use stereoscopic cameras and biologically inspired image processing).
I agree with the GP that the hardest part will probably be the manual dexterity stuff, if only because it's not been such a big area of study in recent history, so there'll be less preexisting expertise and SW to draw on here.

Re:That's ambitious (1)

snookerhog (1835110) | more than 2 years ago | (#39598179)

but is it NP hard?

Re:That's ambitious (1)

Tempest451 (791438) | more than 2 years ago | (#39595895)

There are a lot of different platforms doing every aspect of this. The trick is to get them all on one system. There are dextrous arms with fingers, torsos with facial recognition and expression, and the Petman than seems to have the arms and legs (although I would like to see it without the support cables).

Re:That's ambitious (1)

Tempest451 (791438) | more than 2 years ago | (#39595903)

"First, this requires solving low-speed legged locomotion over difficult terrain. " This is why people have servos in their ankles for fine balance control.

Re:That's ambitious (1)

na1led (1030470) | more than 2 years ago | (#39596355)

I don't think we have the technology to build a Terminator. The Power Source required is not available yet, and then you need very sophisticated A.I. which is still at least a decade away. They should concentrate on building Mechs instead.

Re:That's ambitious (3, Insightful)

Missing.Matter (1845576) | more than 2 years ago | (#39597449)

Machine learning and vision processing are good enough.

I disagree on both counts. Machine learning is very good at specific problems. Current best techniques to train classifiers need millions of samples of ground truth training data, which is incredibly expensive to produce. Most classifiers like this make several assumptions about the training data, namely that it is representative of a stable underlying unknown distribution, which of course is hardly true. The best uses for machine learning techniques are for very specific applications where this assumption can be enforced, like optical character recognition. Machine learning has amazing applications, but it's hardly a field where I would say the results are "good enough," especially for most outdoor mobile robotics applications, like this DARPA project.

Same goes for vision processing. The reason most robots today use LIDARs as their primary "vision" sensor is that image processing is very slow and not very good. With a 3d LIDAR you can do mapping, object detection and recognition, people detection, grasp planning, obstacle avoidance, etc. all very easily in polynomial time. Most of these tasks are computationally intractable using images, if they're possible at all (for example, night time operations).

Re:That's ambitious (3, Informative)

Animats (122034) | more than 2 years ago | (#39598439)

Same goes for vision processing. The reason most robots today use LIDARs as their primary "vision" sensor is that image processing is very slow and not very good. With a 3d LIDAR you can do mapping, object detection and recognition, people detection, grasp planning, obstacle avoidance, etc. all very easily in polynomial time. Most of these tasks are computationally intractable using images, if they're possible at all (for example, night time operations).

10 years ago, that was true. Not any longer. Take a look at DARPA's current robot manipulation project. [youtube.com] Watch a vision-guided robot with two three-fingered hands put a key in a lock, turn the key, and open a door. That's being done with stereo vision and force feedback. The gold-colored device with two lenses is a Point Grey stereo vision device.

Much of early vision processing is done in custom hardware or GPUs now. It's not "computationally intractable". It's fairly expensive computationally, because the amount of work per pixel is high. But it's not exponential.

When I ran a DARPA Grand Challenge team a decade ago, we relied on LIDAR too much, and vision not enough. The winning teams relied almost entirely on vision when they were going fast - the LIDARs didn't have the range or angular accuracy to read terrain out to the stopping distance. What they got from vision was basically "distant part of road looks like near part of road - OK to go fast if near part of road is good", obtained from a classifier system. So they could out-drive their LIDARs. We couldn't exceed 17mph.

Re:That's ambitious (2)

Missing.Matter (1845576) | more than 2 years ago | (#39599513)

No it is true even today. Experiment's for DARPA's ARM project were conducted under bright lighting in ideal, static conditions. I've used the bumblebee cameras and other stereo vision systems, and they have limitations that inhibit the operation of many mobile robots including frame rate and maximum discernible range, (which is limited by the baseline of the camera), and most of all differences in lighting conditions.

When I ran a DARPA Grand Challenge team a decade ago, we relied on LIDAR too much, and vision not enough. The winning teams relied almost entirely on vision when they were going fast - the LIDARs didn't have the range or angular accuracy to read terrain out to the stopping distance.

Look at the more recent DARPA Urban challenges. Of the 6 teams that completed the challenge, all of them used the Velodyne 3D LIDAR as their primary vision sensor, in addition to several peripherial LIDARs. None of the teams who relied on vision primarily finished. Look at Google's Autonomous Prius. Its primary navigational sensor is the Velodyne. If vision were good enough, a car should be able to run on vision alone. After all, I do. But they can't.

What they got from vision was basically "distant part of road looks like near part of road - OK to go fast if near part of road is good", obtained from a classifier system.

Again, the assumptions of most classifiers are that the training data represent a stable underlying distribution. What happens if the road color changes? What happens if everything looks the same color, like in the desert or at night? With a LIDAR these things are no problem. With vision, a human can solve these problems. With vision, a computer cannot. Vision systems are not robust enough. Don't get me wrong, vision systems are important and can do many things a LIDAR cannot do, and in the future they will be indispensable, but they are simply not "good enough", especially for the task described in this DARPA challenge.

Re:That's ambitious (2)

Animats (122034) | more than 2 years ago | (#39600829)

Of the 6 teams that completed the challenge, all of them used the Velodyne 3D LIDAR as their primary vision sensor, in addition to several peripherial LIDARs. None of the teams who relied on vision primarily finished.

True. The Urban Challenge was a slow-speed run, within LIDAR range. The latest Velodyne units see out to 70 meters. Note that you can't profile the road (to see potholes, etc.) out that far; the angle is too oblique. But you can see cars, pedestrians, telephone poles, etc.

There are small short-range LIDAR devices, like the Swiss Ranger [mesa-imaging.ch] and photonic mixer devices [pmdtec.com] , which have finally reached the Consumer Electronics Show level. For short ranges (a few meters), triangulation devices like the Kinect work. Longer range LIDARs without mechanical scanning do exist; Advanced Scientific Concepts makes them for DoD, at about $100K each. (The high price is not inherent in the technology; the manufacturer hand builds them in Santa Barbara, CA.)

Again, the assumptions of most classifiers are that the training data represent a stable underlying distribution. What happens if the road color changes? What happens if everything looks the same color, like in the desert or at night?

You slow down until the stopping distance is within the range of the near-range sensors. The Stanford vehicle's classifier was comparing the near road (out to 10-20m, and profiled by the LIDAR) image with the far road image. As the vehicle rolls forward, the far road becomes the near road, you find out if the far road was like the near road, and the classifier can be trained. After you've run on a reasonably uniform road for a while, you can speed up. All the vision system did in the 2005 Grand Challenge was to detect situations when the road was flat and smooth, allowing fast driving.

Re:That's ambitious (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 2 years ago | (#39597523)

Each Boston Dynamics robot has cost upwards of $20 million.

That's what ENIAC, the world's first pocket calculator, cost in the late 1940s. And it wouldn't even fit in a pocket (took a large building to house) and didn't even have an LCD readout!

Today's pocket calculators are more powerful than ENIAC and cost a dollar or two. So you can expect cheap robots in fifty years.

Re:That's ambitious (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 2 years ago | (#39597539)

Yet, looking at the problem, I can see how to approach it. Modern control theory is good enough. Machine learning and vision processing are good enough.

That's fine for the software... what about the hardware? Do we have actuators (hydraulic, pneumatic, whatever) that are good enough? And most important, do we have a power supply that's good enough?

Re:That's ambitious (1)

Animats (122034) | more than 2 years ago | (#39598275)

That's fine for the software... what about the hardware? Do we have actuators (hydraulic, pneumatic, whatever) that are good enough? And most important, do we have a power supply that's good enough?

Yes. They're not common items, but the right stuff does exist. There are military robots powered by small Diesel engines. [hdtglobal.com] The LS3 (the militarized successor to BigDog) is powered by a small Diesel engine, which drives both a generator and a hydraulic pump. (The U.S. military is all-Diesel; one standard fuel runs everything.)

Miniature hydraulic cylinders and proportional valves provide actuators with very good power to weight ratios. Modern brushless servomotors aren't bad, either. Pneumatics are also an option. (Precise position control with pneumatics is quite possible if the servovalve is close to the cylinder.)

Oh, come on! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39595099)

They should just admit they're calling for people to make sexbots and quit pussyfooting around it.

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half-life? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39595727)

Is it just me or does the robot's task sound like something straight out of Half-Life?

The Sammich Test (1)

Tempest451 (791438) | more than 2 years ago | (#39595863)

The ultimate test of robotic ability is if it can go in the kitchen and build me a sammich! With limited or no tele-presense.

Couldn't they use a pair of robots? (3, Funny)

Snospar (638389) | more than 2 years ago | (#39596005)

Say one, perhaps gold in colour with a slightly annoying, camp voice, that's humanoid and another that's really the brains of the operation in a tri-wheeled body that communicates with a series of clicks & beeps (it's also got a useful rotary arm for shutting off that valve).

It would make for a more entertaining video at the end of the competition.

Next year: (1)

Shavano (2541114) | more than 2 years ago | (#39596251)

Cyborgs!

Re:Next year: (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 2 years ago | (#39597381)

You're behind the curve. We cyborgs are here, now.

You will be assimilated. You will not resist, you will pay good money for your cybernetic implants when your eyes or hips or knees no longer work.

Most of us cyborgs are geezers, with cybernetic implants replacing natural but worn out body parts.

The case for Humanoid robots (2)

scharkalvin (72228) | more than 2 years ago | (#39596351)

The advantage of a humanoid robot, especially a bipedal one is that it can make use of tools and vehicles designed to be used by humans. Such a robot can perform tasks too dangerous for a human that could be done by a human. More specialized robots in non human form can be designed especially for high risk jobs, such as clean up of a nuclear disaster. The Japanese have been specializing in humanoid robots for some time as they have special needs. With an aging and shrinking population they see the need to develop service robots to take care of the ill and elderly. A proposed 'first step' was Project Atom to develop a humanoid robot with the Intelligence level of a 9 year old child. (The name for the project comes from Tezuka Osmau's Tetsuwan Atom manga, better known outside of Japan as Astro Boy).

Re:The case for Humanoid robots (1)

mark-t (151149) | more than 2 years ago | (#39601373)

The advantage of a humanoid robot, especially a bipedal one is that it can make use of tools and vehicles designed to be used by humans.

The idea of a non humanoid robot is so that it can make use of tools and vehicles that are *NOT* designed for human use, where if they were used usable by humans they would be less efficient, more costly to manufacture, etc.

The only real so-called advantage of a humanoid robot is that we simply don't know of any other form that is as adaptable to as wide a range of tasks. A single humanoid robot could potentially do many different things (an unbounded set of them, in fact), and would at most simply require changing its software to change tasks, where many specialized non-humanoid robots would otherwise be required to do various different things, and to perform a new task would require new hardware. This could mean that a humanoid robot can be cheaper in the long run, but again, that's only because we don't know of any other single form that is equally versatile. If the robot could change its physical shape to adapt specifically to the job being demanded, and there were no hardware limits what shapes it could take (other than perhaps precision), then that would probably be even better. Although I think we're a lot further from making a T-1000 style robot than we are from making an adaptable humanoid one.

Robots Driving Tractors! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39596797)

This is going to be awesome.

Re:Robots Driving Tractors! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39597239)

I can see this being the norm in the future

OWEN: Luke, take these two over to the garage, will you? I want you to have both of them cleaned up before dinner.
LUKE: But I was going into Toshi Station to pick up some power converters...
OWEN: You can waste time with your friends when your chores are done. Now come on, get to it!

Let's set priorities (1)

mattr (78516) | more than 2 years ago | (#39597845)

- Should they be nuclear powered? Or perhaps sufficient to trail a power and comms cable for 1km from nearest comms station.
- Should study the exact jobs done by cleanup workers in Fukushima.
- It would be great if the workers could stay miles away while an army of robots was slogging through radioactive ground water etc instead.
- IANA Robotics Engineer but perhaps very good teleoperation and ability to get through tight spaces, reconfigure, work without wireless capability, and be radiation hardened, is much more important than being self deterministic.
- Consider making a batallion of robot army engineers. A number of individual complementary robot types, effectors and utility modules would be useful.
- For example a robot batallion could bring along its own high power telescope, power plant, communications gear, wheeled transportation modules they can snap out of, shovels and block and tackle, etc. and create a supply line back to where human operators are. I could see how speed is important, when you need to get something done very quickly, but other times you need to bring in sensitive detectors or perhaps set up a field station.

Make up a list of scenarios and tasks.
- Sample scenarios: earthquake has destroyed buildings / infrastructure, volcanic eruption, power plant rupture, perilous natural environments like rockslide, flooding, forest fire and avalanche.
- Sample tasks: crossing impassible routes, locating and saving people trapped under rubble, breaking through rubble indoors and outdoors, climbing through ventilation ducts and shafts, diagnosing and fixing engines, hauling hoses, executing operations in a control room, evaluating contamination, running quickly while carrying injured humans or robots, sending tiny auxiliary sensing robots via pipes or airlift from quadcopters and parachutes, mapping and climbing broken buildings and mapping safe paths, braving extremes of temperature / moisture / radiation / smoke / chemical environment / shock from dropping, etc.

Personally I would much rather have a lot of cheap robots with all these capabilities and have them trail tons of cables and local wifi routers, than spend all that time about building smarts into them. Making them stable, robust and reliable is a big challenge itself. Next time we won't have to risk human lives is why.

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