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Mountain Goats to Walking Robots: What Animals Can Teach Us
Washington DC, April 18, 2012 - Cassie Moreira and Linda Raibert visited The SEED School all the way from Boston, Massachusetts to discuss the amazing robots created by Boston Dynamics (BD) for the Department of Defense. Cassie started working for BD at age 18 and is the lead electrical technician on the PETMAN project. She is responsible for overall electrical system reliability, repair and maintenance on this platform and many other projects as well. Her enthusiasm towards robotics was evident as was her love for tinkering, animals and the outdoors. Linda Raibert is a self described nerd. She loves to figure out how things work. Exploring this interest led her to study the fields of psychology, linguistics, biology, and now, robotics. While she grew up around robots, she did not start working with them until recently, and she loves getting her hands dirty.
The women took turns showcasing various primarily legged robots and brought components for the kids to explore. The most famous BD robot is Big Dog with nearly 2,000,000 views on youtube.com. Big Dog is the most developed of the Boston Dynamics robots. It can walk, run and climb in rough terrain robot while carrying very heavy loads. It is not quiet: it runs on a lawnmower engine. Big Dog's four legs work like an animal's, making it easy for the students to engage with it. The students also learned that the on board computer functions as the brain, the control system keeps the robot balanced, navigates and regulates its energy consumption; and the onboard sensors monitor joint position, joint force, ground contact, ground load, and external obstacles. The students related all of the robotic components to human body parts. The students were able to see Rhex traverse streams and enter drainage pipes. RHex is a six-legged robot that is very mobile because the legs produce specialized gaits allowing RHex to climb in a variety of difficult wet and dry environments. The elephant-like robot LS3 evolved out of BD's work on Big Dog. Once the soldiers and marines saw Big Dog's capabilities they asked for more. LS3 can carry three times as much as Big Dog. The robot can follow the leader and walk up to 20 miles with 400 pounds on its back. BD is still in the process is rolling out LS3. When the smallest robot, Sandflea came on the screen the students were surprised by its jumping capability. Sandflea was the smallest of the robots explained by BD. The robot uses gyro stabilization to stay level during flight, to provide a clear view from the onboard camera, and to guarantee a smooth landing. The range of robots in size, shape and propulsion system, helped the students to understand and imagine the types of robots they can build in the future.
Cassie and Linda also shared Petman, a revolutionary humanoid robot being used by the Department of Defense to test suits meant to protect troops and others from chemical warfare agents. It is the first robot with truly human motion, making the protective tests that much more accurate.
In addition, Cassie and Linda described their somewhat non-traditional career paths, showing that hard work and motivation is often more important for career success and happiness than a traditional education. The students were engaged throughout and mobbed Cassie and Linda after the presentation to ask questions and touch, feel and experience the robotic parts in a hands on fashion.
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