Watch Out for HERMES The Bipedal Robot With Human Reflexes

HERMES brilliantly combines the safety and productivity of robotics with the dexterity and fine balance skills of the human body. Developed at MIT, this bipedal robot can punch through drywalls, smash soda cans and karate chop boards into half, provided it’s connected to a human doing the same. By translating the movements of the human operator to the robot instantaneously, this technology hopes to tap into movements that’s challenging to teach a robot to do, but comes automatically to humans. Something as simple as walking is arduous for a robot, but second nature to us.

How Does Hermes, the Bipedal Robot, work?

Here’s how this works: the human operator wears a sheath of motors and wires and remotely controls the movements of the robot. In order to punch into the dry wall, the operator has to initiate the movement by miming the punching action. The robot follows suit. Here’s where it gets interesting. Devoid of any human input, the force of punching into a drywall will send the robot headlong into the wall, because it lacks any sense of balance. Whereas, when HERMES’s fist meets the wall, the operator feels a jolt in his waist, and leans back against it, like one would normally do. This reflexive action is conveyed to the robot, which prevents itself from falling, as a result. This split-second communication is much faster than a robot trying to balance itself based on images captured by an internal camera.

The drywall example is a perfect proof of concept for what this robotic interface was built to do. It allows the operator to remotely feel the robot’s shifting weight, and quickly balance the robot by shifting their own weight. This balance-feedback mechanism allows HERMES to carry out momentum-driven and complex coordinated tasks, without losing balance. The process of building this complex interface involved mapping the robot’s center of pressure, or where it shifted its weight. This was matched with an exoskeleton network of wires and motors attached to the operator’s waist, which is the human center of mass. Any change in center of pressure was conveyed to the motors on the exoskeleton, which would transmit an equal force on the human. Thus, when the HERMES shifts its weight, the human moves.

Eventually, this interface could be developed into a full-blown apparatus with the human wearing a body suit and goggles and being able to see the feel the robot’s actions. The developers say that a scenario could be envisioned wherein a human operator could remotely deploy HERMES to disaster sites, and safely manage the situation.

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