Autonomous Legged Hill and Stairwell Ascent

This paper documents near-autonomous negotiation of synthetic and natural climbing terrain by a rugged legged robot, achieved through sequential composition of appropriate perceptually triggered locomotion primitives. The first, simple composition achieves autonomous uphill climbs in unstructured outdoor terrain while avoiding surrounding obstacles such as trees and bushes. The second, slightly more complex composition achieves autonomous stairwell climbing in a variety of different buildings. In both cases, the intrinsic motor competence of the legged platform requires only small amounts of sensory information to yield near-complete autonomy. Both of these behaviors were developed using X-RHex, a new revision of RHex that is a laboratory on legs, allowing a style of rapid development of sensorimotor tasks with a convenience near to that of conducting experiments on a lab bench. Applications of this work include urban search and rescue as well as reconnaissance operations in which robust yet simple-to-implement autonomy allows a robot access to difficult environments with little burden to a human operator.