Why legged robots? Example ANYmal gives the answer to this question

We often write about the four-legged robots. We inform you what are the new features and opportunities they have received and how close to their real world counterparts. But one question always remained unsolved until the end: in fact, why all these machines? In addition to the potential to connect these robots to rubble as a result of various accidents and disasters, and military use, how and where you can apply a similar four-legged machine? Boston Dynamics recently revealedas one of her robots SpotMini conducts inspection on the construction site. But it’s not exactly the kind of situation that could demonstrate the superiority of machine over man.

In September this year, the company ANYbotics brought one of their four-legged robots ANYmal very remote from the sea shore the power plant in the North sea. Work here is pretty boring. The basic functions are automated. But on the platform must always be 1-2 people for regular health checks of all systems and monitoring of the various detectors and sensors. As you know, not many agree to such a position.

“The most important aspect for any power supply company is safe and constant operation of all systems, especially when it comes to energy production coastal power plants. Autonomous robots can offer the same level of support when performing regular and required checks of the equipment and the rest of the infrastructure in such enterprises. In the framework of the world’s first pilot project, the transmission system operator TenneT electricity decided to experience one of the world’s largest Converter platforms located in North sea, four-legged robot ANYmal”.

After reviewing the video below, you will understand why these four-legged robots like ANYmal almost ideal for this purpose. The car has to move across a smooth surface, occasionally lifting up and down the stairs and squeezing through narrow places. In contrast to bipedal humanoid robots, which even when performing such simple tasks could be difficult, the design of quadruped robots allows you to handle them effortlessly. Of course, it would be possible to use in this case, and robots on tracks, but it would be less effective where a tracked machine would have to go around obstacles, four-legged robot can simply be crossed.

Despite the fact that the speed and efficiency of ANYmal is at the proper level to perform such tasks, even these machines have their drawbacks. At the same demonstration videos to highlight some of them. For example, in some cases, a cruel joke played short legs iron four-legged friend – this hinders his visibility for the observation of highly deployed sensors with cameras positioned on its hull. In addition, the machine is not able to open the doors of electrical switchboards, so the staff needed to keep these facilities open. But it’s the little things that can be easily solved by making the environment in which it will run the car more friendly to her.

More obvious disadvantage of the same ANYmal is different. Although the machine can easily cope with the daily, monotonous monitoring and even be able to tell you if something goes wrong, it is not able to produce repair of the failed equipment. That is, even when using such robots at enterprises will always need people to perform more complex technical tasks. The robot can not replace human, but is able to make him boring, daily, monotonous work.

For comments on the draft ANYmal and his trials at sea the platform of the journalists of the scientific publication IEEE Spectrum turned to Peter Fankhauser, co-founder and commercial Director of the company ANYbotics behind this car.

What special features should have ANYmal to work in this environment?

“Using a mobile robot in real industrial conditions requires solving a number of complex tasks. The most important aspect is the presence of the latter the full autonomy and universal mobility, allowing you to work in a large, complex environment using various control and test equipment. In General, the design of the robot ANYmal well adapted for work in conditions and environments, which were created under people. In other words, he can easily move on to all surfaces, use stairs and to move through a narrow space. Computer vision and LiDAR sensors allow ANYmal to navigate in space and to plan a safe passage through encounters on his way. Among control and test equipment the machine uses an ordinary optical camera capable of zoom, thermal camera and microphones. All this allows collecting detailed data for further analysis by the machine operator”.

Were there any difficulties when you deploy a ANYmal on the platform?

“Thanks to the support operator TenneT (the owner of the platform) we were able to prepare well for the deployment ANYmal and to ensure that we do not expect any surprises. We have in detail studied the schedule of the tasks with which the robot had to work, and conducted simulation with virtual plans platform. Increasingly, our efforts were focused to meet high safety standards to operate in the remote marine power plant. This included a week-long safety training; training of evacuation by helicopter, analysis of recovery scenarios with the surface of the water, as well as equipping our field teams with all the necessary protective equipment. And, of course, we made sure that I took all necessary spare parts for machines that may be needed in case of unexpected breakdowns. After all the nearest parts store we were separated by about 100 kilometers.”

To what extent, realistically, ANYmal will be able to replace humans?

“We are still far from the possibility of simulating the human ability to adequately analyze the problem and use different objects and tools into its decision. So instead of a goal of creating a replacement for a real working, we are moving to create an automated tool assistance. Through such mechanisms it will be possible to increase the level of safety and efficiency at the plants.”

When ANYmal be ready for continuous Autonomous operation? What you are doing to achieve this?

“We are increasing the complexity and duration of tasks for each project. The next steps in the development include the possibility of monitoring at long distances, and testing of charging stations for such robots. Fully finished commercial product will be available in the near future.”

The decision of what tasks and in what areas, in your opinion, will apply to Autonomous robots, such ANYmal?

“At the moment we are working on several projects in the energy and manufacturing industry and construction, agriculture and other more specialized or General projects. In all these areas, mobile robots can provide significant assistance and support. Working with ANYmal, we understand that people may have their own ideas of the use of such machines, which we never knew and develop them. In the future, the range of commercial opportunities will grow along with the capabilities of the robots themselves”.

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