Bipedal and quadrupedal locomotion has been an ongoing challenge for robots. There’s been a lot of progress over the last few years, though, especially when it comes to dynamic motions: not just walking without falling over but also climbing, running, jumping, and more. This is the real value of legs: They enable robots to deal with the kinds of obstacles and terrain and situations that wheels and tracks can’t.
Getting quadrupeds to do these kinds of useful and fun things requires that a) you know what you’re doing and b) you have a robot that can do what you want it to do. Unfortunately, building legged quadrupeds is difficult, expensive, and time consuming. There is a small handful of bespoke research quadrupeds doing some very good work, but for the rest of us, having to actually do all of the hardware stuff is a major obstacle that makes it difficult to focus on the software, which is where the potential for real-world applications comes in.
In Professor Dan Koditschek’s lab at the University of Pennsylvania, Avik De and Gavin Kenneally put a lot of work into developing their own quadruped robot, called Minitaur. It’s a small but very capable platform that uses innovative direct-drive electric motors for a lot of power, virtual compliance, and integrated sensing. Minitaur was introduced this past July in an article in IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters, and there’s been enough interest in this little guy that Kenneally and De have started a company called Ghost Robotics to make sure that Minitaur is affordably available to anyone who wants one.