A robot based on a stick insect can navigate difficult terrain autonomously and adapt to its surroundings. Tara Cleary reports.
Hector the robot stick insect goes for a stroll. He's the brainchild of the Biomechatronics research group at Germany's Bielefeld University. The robot can move all six limbs independently, while sensors allow it to autonomously react to its surroundings, and so learn from experience. Designer Jan Paskarbeit says even though Hector wasn't created for a specific purpose, it could help test animal locomotion theories. SOUNDBITE: JAN PASKARBEIT, DEVELOPER OF HECTOR THE ROBOT, SAYING (German): "We are not going to send him into the sewers or anything. Rather it is a case of concretely understanding how walking works, or how walking on six legs works, or of testing out theories from biology and enriching them with new ideas." Hector's passive elastic joints act rather like muscles, and its ultra light exoskeleton is made of carbon-fibre-reinforced plastic. It can adapt to surface properties and each leg can alter its course while on the move. And soon, Hector will also be able to see. SOUNDBITE: JAN PASKARBEIT, DEVELOPER OF HECTOR THE ROBOT, SAYING (German): "A camera system is currently being developed for Hector which should deliver a picture of his surroundings inspired by biology. In other words, Hector will be able to see like an insect." And just like a real stick insect, feelers are being added to a new prototype, so that the robot can recognize obstacles by touching them in advance. And though Hector is purely a research platform, it's able to carry heavy loads, so potential future models could be used for search, rescue and transportation purposes. Making this insect not such a bad creepy-crawly to have around.