While I've always been a little scared of spiders, watching student Matt Bunting's hexapod robot dancing has all but cured me. Maybe it's the combination of the folk guitar and little leg sways in the below video, but all of a sudden, spiders (at least the robotic kind) look so damn cute.
Cuteness aside, the hexapod bot has gotten some attention from high places. Two days after Bunting, a University of Arizona electrical-engineering senior, posted a YouTube video of his bot, Intel ordered two of them to promote its Atom processors at trade shows and engineering meetings. The robot uses Intel's 1.60GHz Atom Z530 and US15W chipset. It runs on the Ubuntu open-source operating system.
Bunting built the as-yet unnamed robot from spare parts as a final project for a UA class on cognitive robotics. A camera mounted on the front of the six-legged creature (each leg has three degrees of freedom) takes successive images, which are used to help Hex determine if it is moving forward, sideways, or backward or tilting.
By analyzing the visual feedback, the 14x17x8-inch robot adaptively "learns" how to most effectively achieve its forward-moving goal.
"One of the things I wanted to explore was the idea of reinforcement learning. What I wanted to do was not preprogram any of those walking algorithms, I wanted it to figure out how to walk straight forward on its own," Bunting said. "It has the ability to figure it out itself."
Bunting's professor Tony Lewis says the bot's learning algorithm can be applied to tasks other than walking. If a leg breaks or a motor gets damaged, for example, it can relearn how to walk. The robot even has foot contact sensors that can be used for terrain adaptation.
"I see that this device might be doing scientific work like autonomous navigation, mapping of different environments, moving over rough terrain and doing exploration, possibly planetary exploration," Lewis said. "I think Matt's robot has a lot of possibilities. It's really not so far-fetched that a robot like this could go to Mars." … Read more