This 3D printed robot spider has learnt how to walk

Rough terrain and damaged legs won't stop this crawler - it learns how to locomote all on its own
This 3D printed robot spider has learnt how to walk

3D printing is being used to create everything from lights to raspberries – and now it's producing walking robots, too.

This frankly terrifying-looking robot spider (alright, hexapod) is the brainchild of Matt Bunting, a PhD student in robotics at the University of Arizona. We saw it in action at the Rome Maker Faire, where it served as a demonstration of the capabilities of Intel's new Edison mini-computer. “It was originally a class project for a university robotics class,” Bunting explains. “After the class I wanted to give it a makeover, so I 3D printed all the legs.

“Recently we ported all the code from the original computer to the Intel Edison,” says Bunting. “The nice thing about Edison is really the size; and it has built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. So it’s plugged into this big Arduino breakout board, which I only need to plug in USB.”

This 3D printed robot spider has learnt how to walk

The robot’s controlled through an iPad app – though we only saw it running in demo mode, in which it cycles gracefully through a series of poses that look like an insect’s mating dance. When it’s walking, though, it’s not just going through the motions – this robot learnt how to walk all by itself, using a Q-learning algorithm. “I built this to explore robotics behaviour,” says Bunting. “It has machine vision with the camera, and locomotion. Before it had no idea how to move its legs; so it had to experiment, and the camera told it how well it was moving around in the world.”

That means that if the robot’s damaged – or if Bunting decides to change the design – it can compensate, without his having to reprogram it.

“I've also done terrain adaptation,” he adds. “So by using the camera, it can build up a map of the environment, and then use that map to step on top of obstacles.”

While the prospect of swarms of hexapod robots that can’t be stopped by damaging them gives us the shivers, fortunately Bunting’s ambitions don’t stretch to creating his own robot army. For the time being, he’s just planning to replace the Arduino breakout board with something less bulky.

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