Roboy Is A Robot That Moves Like A Real Human Being
Roboy was created with a very specific purpose: to move as much like a human as possible. The robot, whose design consists of 3D-printed bones, joints and tendons, accomplishes this in a very unique fashion: by using coiled springs in its muscles. According to its creators, the springs are there to give Roboy's movement fluidity.
Of course, fluidity isn't the only advantage our muscles give us. The way they're designed also allows us to put considerably more energy into movements like throwing where we build up tension in a muscle by pulling against another. Again, this is something robots aren't really capable of doing on their own.
See, the main reason that most robots move so mechanically is because their movements are far too stiff, according to Roboy Project Manager Rafael Hostettler. Human muscles aren't like plastic or steel. They're flexible and springy, which allows us to 'bounce back' when nudged. That springiness, he continued, can be modeled in software, allowing a robot to modify the force it applies based on resistance, but that inevitably leads to a lag in processing.
That's why Hostettler and his team decided to design Roboy's musculature to mirror our own. To do this, they set up pair actuators operating in opposition to one another at each joint, using wires in place of ligaments and springs in place of muscles. While other robots might use a single motor to pull in either direction, each of Roboy's arms features no less than 12 motors. Apparently, the robot feels nearly human when you shake its hand.
The Roboy project is part of a wider European research initiative called Myorobotics, which aims to create robots that are both cheaper to build and safer to be around. The idea, of coures, is that being struck by a 'springy' robot would be significantly safer than taking a hit from a solid one. Roboy would stand at about 1.42 meters tall, were it capable of such; currently, its leg and foot muscles are strong enough to balance its weight, so it can only sit. My guess is that strengthening Roboy's legs is the team's next priority.
Admittedly, Roboy looks a little bit absurd, impressive though its design may be. It's got an enormous head adorned with two glowing eyes that turn red when it's simulating anger, while a projector inside the head animates the lips. It'd be accurate to say the whole setup kind of makes Roboy look like a cartoon character.
According to Hostettler, Roboy took around nine months to build.
Giving robots a better range of motion isn't the only purpose the Roboy team sees for the machine, either. The researchers have a number of other applications in mind for Roboy's unique musculoskeletal structure, such as a training tool to help doctros learn tests for stroke diagnosis - something that's quite difficult to learn from videos or books, as it requires doctos to get a feel for the way patients react to physical stimuli.
Of course, Roboy's primary pupose - and the reason it's able to communicate - is to help push robot research forward. Ultimately, the design Hostettler and his group have come up with will allow us to manufacture cheaper machines that move with greater fluidity. In short, it'll help robots move - and act - more like human beings.
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