New Sprinting Humanoid Robot Will One Day Come with Flexible Arms and Tactile Skin

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It’s hard to watch these robotic legs — courtesy of Meka Robotics and the Human Centered Robotics Lab at the University of Texas, Austin — and not think about the sprinting T-1000 from Terminator 2.

According to Hizook, the robot was designed “to study planar rough-terrain locomotion with very little perception.” Translation: This robot will one day run you down with little regard to its surroundings. In all seriousness, that means it can move much like a human can, automatically adjusting to uneven terrain on the fly instead of having to stop and calculate its movements.

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The robot, named Hume, can do this because it has elastic actuators that allow it to perform deep knee bends perfect for climbing over rocks and other obstacles. As it’s built now, it weighs around 33 pounds and measures a little over five feet tall.

Still, a pair of scrambling metal legs isn’t exactly the stuff of science fiction legend. The fact that Meka is planning to outfit Hume with the elastic arms of its M1 Mobile Manipulator, however, should get you more excited.

The M1 Mobile Manipulator is an adorable robot straight out of a Disney movie, which currently wheels around on top of a large metal base. Its arms are about the size of small human’s arms, featuring seven degrees of freedom and a strong grip.

So, Meka is developing advanced robotic arms and legs, but it’s missing that last touch that puts its future humanoid robot in creepy-Data-from-Star-Trek territory. Ah yes, that would be tactile skin, which it’s working on with the Georgia Tech Healthcare Robotics Lab.

The pressure-sensitive blue “skin” was able to measure the impact of a 1.1-gram almond and could sense multiple points of contact at once. In the future, that could help it become more responsive to human touch, which in turn would make it a lot safer for environments like hospitals since it would know to pull back immediately once someone touched its arm.

Right now this is just a loose assortment of technologies that might one day be joined together, but, Terminator hyperbole aside, it’s a promising step towards utilizing robots in our everyday lives.

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