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The RHex project arose from an earlier DARPA DSO effort initiated within the 1998 CBS/CBBS program called Computational Neuromechanics. In this prior work our team addressed hypotheses about the organization of locomotory control in animals in a mathematically sound and empirically refutable manner while exploring as well the prospects for using MEMS technology to create effectively an electronic harness for insects.
The RHex project collaboration was led by the University of Michigan with the member institutions including McGill University, Canada and University of California at Berkeley and Princeton University. During later stages, Carnegie Mellon University joined the RHex project.
The overarching goal of the RHex project was to develop a robotic mobility system that could navigate over highly broken and unstable, natural terrain. This was, and to some extend still remains to be still remains as one of the grand challenges of robotics. Even today, most manmade machines heavily rely on assumed structure in the environment---roads. Several recent robotic systems, such as PackBot with its articulated tracks, have improved upon the classical designs using wheels and treads. Yet, their capabilities are no where near animals.
Observations from various comparative biological studies on insects combined with our team’s long history in robotic design have led to the classical RHex concept. The design of RHex significantly diverges from the stereotypical robotic constructs. This legged locomotion platform is a hybrid dynamical system that features only six active degrees of freedom, one in each hip. The legs of the robot are made out of compliant material realizing passive actuation in radial and wing degrees of freedom. A typical behavioral regulation in RHex takes the form of task level open loop control. Namely, actuation actions are performed according to a well tuned timed schedule in the absence of sensory information relating the robot to its environment and to its goal.
The RHex system has demonstrated extraordinary capabilities in harsh government test sites. Its performance comes close and in some cases exceeds that of commercial products like PackBot. Furthermore, RHex’s novel legged design opened up brand new feature sets that were not available before. RHex and its many siblings have demonstrated very interesting applications of real-world robotic designs.
Copyright Kodlab, 2014