One of the most effective ways for robots to move in the environment is when the wheels move on relatively smooth terrain. However, wheels are not the most effective way to travel when it comes to overcoming certain types of obstacles. Legs, for example, can help robots climb obstacles such as stairs. Scientists at Texas A and M University have teamed up with DARPA to build robots for military applications that can determine whether wheels or legs are better suited to cross terrain with or without human intervention.
The project is part of the DARPA Offensive Community Tactics (OFFSET) program in the University’s Department of Engineering and Industrial Distribution. The robot concept map below is shown as part of OFFSET’s third field experiment. Associate Professor Kiju Lee also announced that she had been awarded a new DARPA contract for the Offset Sprint-5, which focuses on enhancing the physical robot test bench.
The plan focuses on the development of unmanned ground vehicles with agile and multi-purpose locomotive capabilities for urban military operations. Lee and her team are developing an adaptive wheel and leg-convertible robot called a-WaLTR that can more effectively span different services, including stairs. The robot can move on wheels or legs as needed and can decide which one to use.
The team is currently developing a prototype to showcase the hardware platform at OFFSET FX5, tentatively scheduled for February 2021. The team also noted that while the technology was created for military applications, it hopes there will be other applications in the future. Lee says the adaptable robots could be used in space, domestic services, surveillance and agriculture.
There is no indication that the robot’s functional prototype has been built. It’s unclear how much DARPA’s robot-making contract is worth.