We have all been moving through cluttered areas, or perhaps after a night of much partying, at some point in our lives and we have extended our arms to help support ourselves with nearby objects. Robotics researchers are now teaching bipedal robots to move using their arms and legs. The team says that humans have used multi-contact locomotion throughout history to navigate complicated environments, and robots are now learning to use the same skill.
For humans, the legs are the main mobility system, but there are situations where humans also use their arms. People use their arms passively to maintain balance or actively, reaching out to lean on nearby objects. Robots are inherently unstable in some situations. Even though bipedal robots typically have arms, researchers face a challenge in software and hardware, limiting a robot’s ability to leverage its arms as people do.
Assistances from TUM robots in Germany have equipped a humanoid robot called LOLA with significant upgrades to make locomotion through multiple contacts possible. The team says the technology is still in its early stages, but it has given LOLA one of the most humanlike bipedal locomotion seen in robots so far. Multi-contact locomotion is often used by humans in situations where it is planned in advance and when it is not and would be a valuable skill for robots to learn.
For now, LOLA’s ability to use her arms is not fully automated. The researchers are defining the position of the foot and the points of contact of the arm with the hand in advance. In the future, scientists expect these techniques to be done autonomously. They note that some of the most challenging parts, such as using multiple points of contact dynamically to balance the robot in motion, are being carried out on board the robot in real time.