Oct 312011

HyQ is the Italian cousin of Boston DynamicsDARPA-funded BigDog.

Under development at Istituto Italiano Di Tecnologia (IIT) by a group of researchers led by Professor Darwin Caldwell, this Hydraulically actuated Quadruped robot is being groomed to navigate rough terrain, jump and run at speeds up to 15 km/h (9 mph).

Unlike Boston Dynamics’ quadrupeds, HyQ is not a heavy-payload machine designed strictly for military applications. Instead, the robot could be used in rescue missions, on construction sites, for forestry applications and whenever there is a need to access areas not easily accessible to ordinary machines. However, before HyQ becomes part of the everyday landscape, it has another important role to play as an open source research platform.

As shown in the video below, HyQ is already quite a capable beast. It is fast, it is robust, it can squat jump, rear like a horse, move in an unnervingly insect-like fashion or kick a cardboard box. All these different types of movements were achieved through torque control, whereby the robot calculates what torque should be applied to each joint. The brain responsible for the calculations is a modest Linux-running PC.

In order to ensure the high joint speed and torque necessary to perform all these stunts, HyQ has been fitted with 12 joints (3 per leg), of which eight are actuated by hydraulic cylinders and four are handled by brushless DC motors. Each of the light-weight aluminum and stainless steel legs offers three degrees of freedom (one in the knee and two in the hip), which guarantees flexibility of movement.

However, the most important leg design feature is that they are actively compliant. The position and torque of the legs is smoothly controlled by a set of high resolution encoders and load cells (position and force sensors) fitted on each joint. The stiffness of every limb can be quickly adjusted by changing the hydraulic flow of the actuators. This allows the robot to perform highly dynamic tasks, such as running and jumping, because the shocks and vibrations are instantly absorbed by the actuators.

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