Traditionally, robots used for industrial applications have been wheeled mobile robots or manipulators. Over the last few decades, self driving cars as well as robots inspired by the natural world (termed "bioinspired") have been making waves in robotics. While self-driving technologies face many hurdles to widespread adoption, bioinspired quadrupedal robots are revolutionizing a variety of industries.
Bioninspired bots include humanoids, flying robots, bipedal bots, robots that mimic insects, and the four legged bots known as quadrupeds - the most successful type of bioinspired bot to date.
Biologically inspired robotics offer solutions for many of the limitations of traditional robots, mimicking the movement capabilities, agility and maneuverability of living creatures. Though difficult to build, bioinspired bots offer many promising opportunities for deploying robotics in the industrial sector.
While popular bioinspired bots like Boston Dynamics’ Atlas and the AI-based humanoid Sophia are beautifully designed, innovative technologies, it will be a long time before these more delicate, expensive bioinspired technologies can be adopted for use in an industrial environment. In contrast, quadrupedal bots, which mimic four-legged animals, are significantly more robust, and use less sophisticated designs, making them more feasible for commercial and industrial applications.
The 4-legged movement strategy of quadrupedal bots provides less technological challenges than bipedal and flying bots, making their balancing, maneuvering and control algorithms significantly easier to solve. Four legs offer a significant advantage in stability and balance, allowing them to navigate rough terrain or uneven surfaces more easily. Despite the currently high costs associated with the bots, these features make quadrupeds highly useful in industrial environments.
How Do Quadrupeds Work?
Quadrupeds seamlessly integrate cognition, perception and controls software with actuation hardware and sensors. Their joints are frequently powered using electric actuators (servo motors) or hydraulics, which use high-torque capabilities to support the weight of the robot and it's payload. These actuators are also known for their speedy response systems, which enable dynamic gait abilities.
Quadruped joints are usually powered by electric actuators (like servo motors) or hydraulic actuators. These actuators have high-torque capabilities to support the robot weight and payload while also having very quick response systems for dynamic gait abilities.
In the natural world, quadrupeds walk with either diagonal legs in alternate motions, or the same side legs in alternate motion. Unlike robots, animals can quickly handle stability because of the ability of their joints to actuate and respond at high speeds.
In robotics, quadrupeds manage their stability and derive actions using motions instructions. When moving forward, the bot converts Cartesian distance into joint instructions for its 12 actuators, all while ensuring the system's stability. In this context, stability refers to a robot's ability to maintain a pose without the need to adjust the weight/force of its body. Quadrupedal robots have either dynamically stable gait, which means the robot can only pause and maintain stability between steps, or statically stable gait, which allows the robot to pause at any time without unbalancing.
This type of bioinspired bot is suitable for remote, hazardous, or human inaccessible areas, as well as for use in indoor navigation applications in areas with complex construction. Electric power substations, the construction industry, as well as oil and gas industries are the most common sectors in which quadrupeds are deployed. Due to their ability to navigate uneven terrain, manage stairs, and handle human/object intervention, bots like the ANYmal and Spot quadrupeds are being deployed for oil and gas monitoring, as well as for visual inspection on construction sites and electric substations.
Spot by Boston DynamicsWhile the price tag of many quadrupeds makes adoption difficult, their growing use in industry as well as continuous technological advancements point towards a bright future for quadrupedal robots in the industrial sector.