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January 2015: Charlie the Model Chimpanzee: The First Robot with a Flexible Spine and Sensitive Feet

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

January 2015: Charlie the Model Chimpanzee: The First Robot with a Flexible Spine and Sensitive Feet

Climbing down steep crater walls in search of frozen water on the moon, for example, requires a robot to be both autonomous and flexible. In the future, these skills will become increasingly important for mobile robots. To meet these demands, scientists at the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) Robotics Innovation Center and the University of Bremen have developed an ape-like robot named "Charlie" - with an actuated spinal column and sensor feet - for better traction and stability in uneven environments like lunar terrain.

Charlie is a hominid robotic system, equipped with multi-point contact feet and an active, artificial spine. The robot's front and rear are connected via a flexible spinal structure that offers movement in six spatial directions. Likewise, the robot's foot and ankle structures support the system's movement in terms of traction and stability. Altogether, the robot has more than 330 sensors. They are as self-contained as possible, allowing Charlie to respond to external disturbances with only minor delay.

For the time being, the robot's quadrupedal posture is a more stable standing position, better equipped to tackle explorations of rough, uneven environments like moon craters. Up until now, the robot has been able to walk in many different test environments with a range of walking speeds on various surfaces and in varying inclinations ranging from -20 to 20 degrees. The robot is able to shift its center of mass in real-time based on the slope it is walking on. Since the robot can also stand up on two legs like a human, advanced applications in a bipedal posture may also be possible, such as for using the front extremities for manipulation tasks.

Charlie was designed over the course of the DFKI project "iStruct - Intelligent Structures for Mobile Robots." iStruct received 3.3 million euros in funding from the Space Agency of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi).

To watch Charlie stand, walk, and balance, click here.

Source & Image: © Daniel Kühn, Robotics Innovation Center, DFKI GmbH