Why do we need another robot?
To take the next step.
That is the core of what the scientists and researchers at Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition do: To make the teaming of human and machine one that helps push the boundary of what is possible.
Toward that end, the IHMC Robotics Team unveiled a video of its latest humanoid robot, Nadia. Watch Nadia here.
Working with Boardwalk Robotics, the IHMC team has designed Nadia as the next generation of humanoid robots. The Nadia project aims to develop highly mobile ground robots that can function in indoor and urban environments where stairs, ladders, and debris require robots to have mobility and manipulation dexterity nearing that of a human.
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The applications of this design could be useful in explosive ordinance disposal, nuclear remediation, disaster response, firefighting, and other scenarios that might be dangerous for humans.
Nadia’s development is supported by several sources, including the Office of Naval Research (ONR), Army Research Laboratory (ARL), NASA Johnson Space Center, and TARDEC.
In the summer of 2022, IHMC received funding totaling nearly $4.7 million from ONR to continue work on the project. IHMC Research Scientist Dr. Robert Griffin leads the exoskeleton team. He noted that Nadia’s range of motion and power density are significant improvements over humanoids IHMC has worked with previously.
Key elements of this version are the joint designs, which feature mechanisms that aim at achieving near human-level ranges of motion in the hips and knees, and the use of a carbon-fiber exoskeleton structure.
“We hope to use this design to enable multicontact motions, where the robot can use any part of its body to make contact with the world, as well as survive falls in the long run,” Griffin says.
The recent reveal of the Tesla-built robot Optimus has given humanoid robots a moment in the sun. Griffin notes that the progress the team at Tesla has made on Optimus “was significant when you consider the timeline in which they were achieved. Given Tesla’s capabilities in autonomy and electric motor production, it will be exciting to see what they achieve by next year.”
While other robots have been designed to automate production, Nadia is designed to access hard-to-reach spaces and achieve challenging, dexterous tasks with little-to-no knowledge of the environment or goals ahead of time.
“This is what has driven our focus on mobility and making the human teammate an integral part of the operation,” Griffin said.
While the team is thrilled to share the progress Nadia has made, they already are working on improvements to the hardware, adjustments that will improve high-speed locomotion of flat and rough terrain, development of a more natural gait, and improved modeling of the environment to incorporate this in mapping and planning algorithms.
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“We plan on continuing to increase the capability, speed, and robustness of Nadia, as well as pushing into novel environments we’ve not tried before,” Griffin said.
Key innovations the team is looking to develop include:
- Novel joint and skeletal design to boost the range of reach motion and survive falls such that the robot can lose balance but keep operating.
- Enhanced walking and balance algorithms that will include points of contact such as the knees and forearms for balance to enable locomotion in challenging situations.
- Improved speed and efficiency of locomotion so the robot can navigate over both smooth and rough terrain.
- High-speed perception to allow the robot to model the environment, make contact and understand what it is seeing through semantic labeling.
- Improved persistent behaviors for building exploration. These include proceeding through a specific door, identifying areas to hide, actively searching, identifying humans, and climbing and descending stairs.
- Improved autonomous debris clearing. IHMC will work with the University of Washington to improve autonomous picking and clearing manipulation framework where the robot seeks to remove constraints that prevent it from achieving a goal.
Shannon Nickinson is communications director for the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC).