Researchers at Oregon State University pulled a bipedal robot off the couch to complete the first-ever robotic 5-kilometer outdoor race. The bot, Cassie, completed the trail in 53 minutes, without a tether and on a single battery charge. So, the next time you go out for a jog, remember: now is the time to beat if you want to beat the killer robots.
(For the time being.)
Cassie is the creation of Agility Robotics, a spin-off of OSU, which has been advocating for bipedal robots for some time. Cassie herself was the company’s first product, made between 2017 and 2019, and now adopted by research labs. Agility is now making an updated bipedal bot, Digit, which has arms to handle packages and was used by Ford as part of a research project on autonomous delivery robots.
Bipedal machines, however, are hard to sell. Their big advantage is that they can easily navigate spaces made for humans, such as stairs and narrow hallways. But their bipedalism means they’re inherently less stable, especially compared to quadrupedal robots like those made by Boston Dynamics. It’s just harder to knock something over when he’s on all fours.
The team behind Cassie says that could change as new deep learning techniques allow bipedal robots to develop new ways of stabilizing themselves during locomotion. These methods are not flawless, however. Cassie fell twice during her 5k run, for example – once because her computer brain overheated, and the other because her human controller ordered her to take a turn too quickly. (Yes, Cassie didn’t run under her own direction.)
Jonathan Hurst, professor of robotics at OSU and co-founder of Agility Robotics, is still convinced that bipedal robots will become the norm, mixing with humans. “In the not too distant future, everyone will see and interact with robots in many places in their daily lives, robots that work alongside us and improve our quality of life,” Hurst said in a blog post from OSU.
Who knows, you might even see them on your morning run.