The Minitaur may look dainty, but its makers promise it’s actually a hardcore work robot.
Jiren Parikh, CEO of the Philadelphia-based Ghost Robotics, tells Inverse that the Minitaur’s “secret sauce” is all in the software and simplistic design. It doesn’t have any gears, hydraulics, or external sensors that would normally weigh a robot down and complicate the design. Minitaur is able to maneuver simply by sensing the force of objects it interacts with.
“It feels everything directly through its legs,” Parikh says. “It measures the force that is put on the leg using a torque sensor in the motor. That force tells it if it is on sand, ice, or dirt, and it adjusts its balance accordingly.”
The robot is still only semi-autonomous, and requires a person to direct it using a remote controller. However, that is just for direction and navigation. All of the tiny mechanical movements are coming from within, especially when it appears to be slipping on the ice.
“The robot is slipping, but it it is also learning from the ice and it’s recognizing which movements are working and which aren’t to balance itself,” said Parikh. “It’s reactive behavior, and it’s able to react because of its incredible speed. It does exactly what a human does when they slide on ice, but better.”
Along with its reactive behavior, Minitaur is also very good at escape maneuvers. It can get itself unstuck by performing any number of advanced movements. It also can walk with two broken legs, even if it is “badly busted,” says Parikh.
The next step for Ghost Robotics, which started up in October 2015 out of the University of Pennsylvania, is to equip Minitaur with a series of navigation systems to allow it to evaluate terrain on its own, truly making it autonomous.
“These sensors are to tell it where it is in the surrounding world. So, while it’s very reactive, it needs a bigger wider vision to know where objects are. Then beyond that, it has to know if a ledge is large enough to hold it, what’s beyond the ledge, is there another path around it. All that stuff requires the third party sensors.”
They plan to have this next stage of production completed by the end of 2018. For now, Ghost Robotics is focused on getting the current stage of development on the market.
The team envisions practical applications in military, search and rescue operations, scientific research, and anywhere a tiny robot is needed to fit into small places.
Ghost Robotics is currently selling the Minitaur for $11,500. It can carry up to 6 pounds on its 13-pound frame. That space could be used for additional cameras, battery packs, or any number of detection devices.
“The goal is to keep it low cost so people can use them by the dozens… It could be used to destroy land mines in warfare situations or crawl through rubble to find survivors and detect for gas leaks. If it breaks, it can be fixed cheaply.”