Robots come in all shapes and sizes, to do different things. Some fly to deliver packages, and some roll on wheels to move parts around a factory. Some robots are cars. As machines enter our daily lives, the question is, how will they interact with our physical world?
Early in November, Motherboard visited a robotics startup in Albany, Oregon that believes the solution is legs. Two of them, to be exact. Agility Robotics, which spun off from Oregon State University earlier this year, has created the first commercially available bipedal robot. It’s called Cassie. The idea, Agility’s founders told Motherboard, is that legs will allow robots to walk up stairs, or across rough terrain, or really anywhere that people can go, without having to design any special accommodations for them.
According to Agility Robotics, two-legged robots could be the future of everything from package delivery to home care for the elderly.
In Oregon, we went to the Agility Robotics offices to talk to two of the company’s co-founders, professor Jonathan Hurst and former student Mikhail Jones, about the next steps for Cassie and bipedal robots generally. We also visited Hurst’s robotics lab at Oregon State University in nearby Corvallis, where the idea got its start. From there, we took a trip to the local machine shop where a gruff but friendly crew of machinists create the parts that make up Cassie. And finally, we visited Jones’ sheet metal shack on his family’s farm where he lives and tinkers with dirtbikes. Not the usual hangout for a roboticist.
We also went to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where a team of academics under the leadership of roboticist Jessy Grizzle are pushing the limits of what Cassie can do, even adding a pair of computer “eyes” to the set of robot legs.
To these roboticists and innovators, the complex problem of human movement and how to get a robot to replicate it is an irresistible challenge, and one that could change the world if the figure it out.
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