Robotics, Exoskeletons, & Human Robotic Interdependence

 

IHMC researchers are pushing the envelope of what is possible in the domain of robotics. We have an interdisciplinary group composed of expertise in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, computer science, mathematics, physics, human factors, and interface design. Our group has several different areas we are focusing on:

Humanoid Robots and Avatars

We are currently developing a next generation hydraulic robot called Nadia, as a way to create a new platform for research on locomotion and control, with the size, weight, speed, torque, and range of motion comparable to that of a typical human.

We competed and placed second in the DARPA Robotics Challenge, which was an international competition aimed at advancing ground robotic capabilities focused on disaster response. IHMC used the Boston Dynamics designed Atlas robot for the competition. We continue to do research using the Atlas robot, but our primary focus is now a NASA project for co-exploration using humanoid robots as avatars. This project uses NASA Johnson Space Center’s Valkyrie humanoid robot. Both of these projects involve humans remotely operating humanoid robots in natural and man-made environments to accomplish useful work.

Exoskeletons

Our research in wearable robotics has developed several variations of lower body exoskeleton devices. These devices encompass a vast array of applications including mobility assistance for spinal paraplegic injuries, strength amplification for able-bodied users, and compact resistance exercise for astronauts in space. By collaborating with other leaders in the field such as NASA Johnson Space Center, we hope to advance the state of the art in wearable robotics to be compact, light-weight, safe, and an avenue for increasing the quality of life and performance across a wide variety of challenging and critical situations.

Bipedal Walking

A big challenge for humanoid robots is bipedal walking. IHMC has been pioneering advanced control techniques for bipedal robots to maintain balance while walking over a wide variety of terrains. While great strides have recently been made in robotics, robots still are unable to get to all the same places as people. Our humanoid projects are focused on pushing our bipedal humanoids capabilities forward to handle rough terrain without any knowledge of the environment from onboard sensors. Then, when this knowledge is included, their performance is further improved. We are also focusing on the ability to robustly handle external disturbances. Our goal is to tackle increasingly more difficult walking challenges, giving robots the ability to traverse environments they never have before.

Human-Machine System Design

Part of effectively developing humanoids as avatars involves developing the system to effectively work with the human operator. This involves understanding the design requirements for both the operator interface and the underlying algorithms. Our approach to this is called Coactive Design. This approach has led to the development of a very effective human avatar interface. We also apply this design approach to our unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) project. The approach enables the human to assist the UAV in navigating complex environments and avoiding obstacles.

Some older projects include:

  • DARPA Robotics Challenge
  • Learning Locomotion Challenge
  • M2V2 Biped
  • FastRunner
  • Cybathlon 2016

Additionally, we are interested in community outreach and helping the public better understand the abilities and limitations of robotics. One of the goals at IHMC is to engage in public outreach through Science Saturdays, Robotics Camps, and open house events to instill this understanding and an interest in the work that we do. We attempt to do this by introducing robots to people’s lives and inspiring the children that will become future roboticists to pursue paths that will help make sure that there is no shortage of talented scientists, researchers, and engineers ready to help develop the next great robot.