Making Robots Walk Through Fire

Robot walking away from fire.

To test the remote-controlled robotic bipeds being developed in a University of Michigan lab, researchers are having robots perform some unique tasks. They include walking through forest fires and riding a Segway to develop and improve movement and balancing abilities.

These harsh-condition exercises also help to establish benchmarks in durability and enable designers to tweak algorithms that will ensure the robots are moving at the right pace and with the proper levels of maneuverability. Recent reports show they still struggle with larger obstructions like fallen tree limbs, or moving through areas with limited visibility due to smoke or darkness.

These exercises allow researchers to experiment with new technologies such as LiDAR (the platform used by many autonomous vehicle platforms and warehouse robots) that allow robots to see and navigate in ways humans cannot. The teams’ research on robotic responses to extreme conditions is being used to develop an open-source template for future developments.

Unlike previous robotic research, this unit, dubbed Cassie, is not about strength. Instead, the work centers on refining skills like sending a robot cruising through a crowded area on a Segway, knowing that it can stay upright and lean forward or backward to control the speed.


Image Credit: Mike H/

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