A two-legged robot named Little Hermes was designed with humanlike reflexes and is guided by a person from a remote location who feels the same physical forces the robot is experiencing. The small-scale bipedal robot is designed to go places deemed unsafe for humans.
Much of the current human-operated robotics research does not include any force-feedback information to the operator. If human-assisted robots are going to interact with the environment in a way comparable to humans, operators need to feel the same forces that the robot “feels.” A motion-capture suit — like an exoskeleton worn by a human operator — was developed that captures the operator’s motion and the forces the operator exerts on the environment to move, and transfers that data to the robot, which reproduces the motion with little to no delay.
Since robots do not have an inherent sense of balance like a person does, the researchers fit the operator with a vest that sends force-feedback information from the robot to the operator. If the robot begins to fall, the operator feels a push in that direction through the vest. The operator’s reaction is to take a step to balance themselves and the robot does the same, synchronously, preventing it from tipping over.
Next steps are to improve the teleoperation between the robot and operator, which happens through a wired side-by-side interface. Researchers plan to use wireless technology, similar to what is used to control drones. Also, robot-to-human force-feedback devices to other parts of the body like the feet and hands will be developed. The technology is not constrained to bipedal robots; any of the technology transfers easily to other mobile systems like quadrupedal and wheeled robots.