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Hill-Climbing Robots

August 9, 2007

Scientists are teaching a robot how to climb hills.


A robot’s uphill battle. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Like a car with an automatic transmission, humans can shift effortlessly from walking on level ground to climbing a hill. But that’s a huge challenge for a robot. Florentin Woergoetter and his colleagues at the University of Goettingen in Germany have trained a robot called Runbot to do just that.

FLORENTIN WOERGOETTER (University of Goettingen):
And it does it by changing its stride length and by leaning forward, with a little upper body component, like humans also do: when we walk upwards, we lean forward.

Like a human toddler, Runbot learns by trial and error. When it first encounters a hill, it falls backwards. But that triggers a learning mechanism, which adapts the robot’s movements based on data collected by a simple infrared eye. Once it’s mastered a given incline, Runbot can tackle other hills of equal or lesser steepness. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.