Electronic Design

Robot Dinosaurs "Roams" The Halls At MIT

Warning! Dinosaurs have invaded the MIT lab! They may one day "roam" through a museum near you, too.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Artificial Intelligence (AI) Lab in Cambridge have created a robotic dinosaur. The lab hopes to develop small, lifelike 3D representations of dinosaurs that will be used as educational tools. The project falls under the administration of MIT's Leg Lab, a division of the AI Lab dedicated to simulating and building robots that walk like their biological counterparts.

After five years of work, scientist Peter Dilworth has created a robotic model of a troodon dinosaur (see the figure). The robotic version of this creature, dubbed Troody, can walk across a desk with lifelike body movement.

Currently, Troody is one of two bipedal robots at the Leg Lab. Known as M2, the other biped simulates the legs of a human. While it can stand and walk in place, M2 cannot yet walk forward. Series elastic actuators, or springs connected to motors, are employed in the MIT robots to ensure that joints are looser and appear more biological. The actuators also enable the robots to better traverse unexpected terrain.

Troody has 16 joints and 36 sensors. Each joint integrates a position and force sensor. The robot integrates a vestibular system, the equivalent of an inner ear, as well. This system helps the robot in activities requiring balance. An on-board computer automatically runs a walking control algorithm.

The researchers are now preparing to develop and assemble Troody's successor. This production prototype will be designed to function in a museum environment. Engineered with sturdier construction, this successor will be about 50% larger than Troody. Currently, Troody measures 18 in. high and 4 ft. long and weighs about 10 lbs. Dilworth says the new robot will match the troodon dinosaur more closely in appearance and behavior. The larger version will even feature feathers.

Troody's successor should be able to turn more efficiently and walk faster than the smaller model. It may even be able to run or jog. If indeed the robot can run, Dilworth claims it will be the first 3D bipedal walking and running robot. The new robot will optimize Troody's design for greater mobility and more lifelike movement.

For details, visit www.ai.mit.edu.

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