AI News, Jet-Powered iCub Could Be the First Flying Humanoid Robot

Jet-Powered iCub Could Be the First Flying Humanoid Robot

The reason that science fiction is full of this kind of thing is because it’s tremendously fun to think about this kind of thing, and you can imagine all kinds of compelling applications for it, even beyond the obligatory punching of aliens and more generalized anti-antagonist-ing.

In fact, some of these applications could be useful outside of science fiction, and researchers at the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) are working on making it a reality, by developing a system that can control an iCub humanoid robot with four jet engines attached to it.

In a paper submitted to IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters (RA-L), Daniele Pucci, Silvio Traversaro, and Francesco Nori from IIT proposea “first step toward the development of a control framework for underactuated flying humanoid robots.” Their idea is that“there is a strong technological benefit in bringing humanoid and flying robots closer: a platform combining these two robot natures may have the capacities of flight, contact locomotion, and manipulation.” We should emphasize here that when the authors call this a first step, it really is a first step.

So far, what they’ve got is a basic control framework that can control a simulated iCub robot in a hover and gentle motion, relying on the thrust from simulated jet engines located where the robot’s hands and feet would be.

For now, the goal is to use the simulation to verify that the control algorithm described in the paper has a reasonable level of robustness against modeling errors, which is necessary for its eventual implementation on a real robot.

These robots can’t move around by means of contact forceswith the environment, andthey often struggle with flying in windy environments while manipulating an object,requiring precise position control for accomplishing manipulation tasks.

For instance, a general control framework encompassing manipulation, contact-locomotion, and flight is still missing, and the role of the auxiliary (jet?) actuation during contact locomotion of humanoid robots is not clear.

Characterising jet actuation, checking iCub’s torque control under that stress, and verifying that the inertial sensors will work properly under high level of vibrations are among the main challenges I envisage for the future.