Researchers at the Italian Institute of Technology have just completed testing on a new humanoid robot they call the WALK-MAN. WALK-MAN 2.0 has been upgraded with a lighter upper body and a new set of hands that were specifically designed to look more human. The robot is just over six-feet-tall and is primarily made of lightweight metals, plastics, and iron. The new version is about 70 pounds lighter, an effort by the researchers to make it faster.
During the final validation phase, WALK-MAN had to enter a simulated industrial plant that had been damaged by an earthquake. In the scenario, gas leaks and fires made it too dangerous for humans. WALK-MAN has a shaky gait and moves sort-of-like a toddler who just learned to walk, but he successfully performed four specific tasks. Opening the door and navigating through the damaged room, locating the source of the gas leak and closing the valve, removing debris, and finding and putting out the fire with a fire extinguisher.
The robot's head has eyes and ears in the form of cameras, a 3D laser scanner, and a microphone sensor that sends sound and images back to emergency personnel, who use the info to assess the situation and remotely guide the robot. It's driven by 32 engines and control boards with four force and torque sensors in its hands and feet, and two accelerometers that help keep it upright. The sensor-equipped suit helps it act as an avatar for the person at the helm.
The next step is to add chemical sensors so WALK-MAN can detect any toxic gases, and perhaps make it a little faster. After all, it only has a two-hour charge, and at that rate, it's hard to imagine that it can do much rescuing in that limited amount of time.