Planet of the mechanical apes: Scientists give us new ape-like robot

The iStruct Demonstrator makes several advances in robotics, including its high-tech feet.

By , Contributor

The video shows the walking pattern of the developed ape-like robotic system. Besides different walking directions (forward, backward, sideways, and diagonally) a smooth transition between the respective directions is realized.

Roboticists at the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) have built a robot called the iStruct Demonstrator that walks on its knuckles like an ape’s robot twin. 

The new robot, a 40 pound hulk of somewhat frightening-looking metal, makes several steps forward in robotics, with advanced features that distinguish it from most of its robot contemporaries.

While most robots have flat feet and must shuffle-walk, the iStruct Demonstrator has a heel-toe step. The complex feet work through a combination of 43 pressure sensors, six sensors used for collision detection, a 6-axis force sensor, and a distance sensor in the heel that can anticipate the heel strike. The walking system also includes a digital 3-axis accelerometer that understands the orientation of the foot structure and digital magnetic angular encoders that can monitor the movement of the foot and ankle structure.

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High-tech feet: all the better to lumber after us with.

The iStruct Demonstrator doesn't move particularly fast, but it can balance on its own and fluidly make transitions to travel in multiple directions.

The robot also has a spine that can bend, instead of the usual, unbendable back that prevents robots from stooping down and doing something unfriendly to us.

And while most robots must still be tethered to power supplies, the iStruct Demonstrator has a self-contained battery power source and can chase us down all on its own. 

DFKI has not specified what exactly the robot is designed to be used for, but the project is listed under the center’s Space Robotics department. That means it’s probably going quite far away from us on Earth – good news.

This is not the first animal-like robot. The cat family has been a particular source of inspiration to scientists, though most of those cheetah-like creations cannot balance on their own and don’t have a self-contained power source. Earlier this month, though, scientists developed a feline robot that can toddle on its own four legs and that is expected to form the technological basis for advances in search-and-rescue robots.

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