Vision-free robot feels its way through the dark

Cheetah 3 robot
The vision-free version of MIT’s Cheetah 3 robot can jump onto a 30-inch-high tabletop. (MIT via YouTube)

Boston Dynamics’ scary-smart robots make use of sophisticated computer vision, but MIT is following a different strategy with its Cheetah 3 robot.

The vision-free version of MIT’s 80-pound, Labrador-sized Cheetah 3 can find its way across a pitch-black room and up an obstacle-littered stairway without the use of cameras or environmental sensors. Instead, it relies on what engineers call “blind locomotion” — that is, the feedback from its robotic legs and its algorithm-based sense of balance as it scrambles through the dark.

“There are many unexpected behaviors the robot should be able to handle without relying too much on vision,” designer Sangbae Kim, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, said today in a news release.

“Vision can be noisy, slightly inaccurate, and sometimes not available, and if you rely too much on vision, your robot has to be very accurate in position and eventually will be slow,” Kim said. “So we want the robot to rely more on tactile information. That way, it can handle unexpected obstacles while moving fast.”

The strategy is well-suited for getting around disaster zones or other risky environments.

Get the full text on GeekWire.

By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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