Christopher Mims

A View from Christopher Mims

Robot vs. Lobster

When a hexapod robot challenges a decapod crustacean, who wins?

  • July 16, 2010

If four legs are good and two are bad, are six even better? That’s the question roboticists have been trying to answer for a decade, ever since boffins at the University of Pennsylvania, as part of a large DARPA-funded consortium, invented the RHex Hexapedal Robot platform.

While the RHex is traditionally used for experiments on land, Researchers at McGill University, in partnership with Dalhousie University and York University, have also succeeded in buidling AQUA, which can swim underwater - even in the open ocean.

Which is how this happened. What you’re seeing is a robot’s-eye view:

Robot 1, mother nature 0.

It’s all part of a larger effort to use a standard robotic platform to experiment with strategies for sensing the environment and adjusting the robot’s locomotion to navigate appropriately. Robotics, like computing, is becoming standardized: platforms like RHex allow students and researchers to build on a known system rather than having to re-invent the wheel each time. It’s code re-use, but for robots.

This facilitates stepwise innovations. Here’s the AQUA switching gaits as it goes from land to sea:

Diving:

Climbing a hill:

Following a diver, reading gestures, clambering onto land like a primordial lungfish, etc.:

Hexapodal robots are simple and robust enough that Boston Dynamics, makers of the BigDog pack robot, built a version for the Army. You can tell it’s militarized because in every publicity shot, it’s covered with a Rambo-esque quantity of camouflaging muck.

Follow Christopher Mims on Twitter, or contact him via email.

Cut off? Read unlimited articles today.

Become an Insider
Already an Insider? Log in.

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Intelligent Machines

Artificial intelligence and robots are transforming how we work and live.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Premium.
  • Insider Premium {! insider.prices.premium !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Our award winning magazine, unlimited access to our story archive, special discounts to MIT Technology Review Events, and exclusive content.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

    First Look. Exclusive early access to stories.

    Insider Conversations. Listen in as our editors talk to innovators from around the world.

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.