Boston Dynamics is sending a robot out for a walk. It’s not that impressive on the surface, since the robot requires eight humans to do things like carry its electric cords and other similar services. It also doesn’t accomplish anything but walking. Not only can humans do this without a support entourage, but so can sheep.
But taking a robot out into the world is completely different from working with industrial robots. We make sure that our robots have ideal environments for their particular needs, for one thing. Granted, that could mean wash down environments or potentially explosive environments, but usually we have to keep our machinery cool and dry and at certain altitudes to ensure full capacity.
Even if we build a system to work in harsh environments — and that’s one of the reasons for using automation rather than human workers — we are using the system in a predictable environment. We know ahead of time that there will be harsh chemicals involved or whatever the special circumstances may be.
We also put our machines into specific places where they will be safe, and where human beings will be safe from them. Then we ask them to whip out hundreds of paper cups a minute and they do it. That seems impressive, if only because people can’t do it.
Going for a hike is completely different. It’s easy for the average human, but very difficult for the average robot. We don’t know exactly what the terrain will be like. We don’t know exactly where the robot will need to go.
Normally, robots need to know exactly what’s going to happen. They’re not good at making decisions on the fly. Or at all, for that matter. A servo controls movements precisely and allows the same identical movement repeatedly. That doesn’t help a robot find its footing on a trail or move around a tree.
So Boston Dynamics is doing something fairly amazing when it takes a robot on a hike, even with lots of human helpers.
It’s interesting to read about the cutting edge of robotics, but in daily life we usually just want to make sure that our industrial robots do exactly what they’re programmed to do, repeatedly, with no surprises. Call us to make sure your Rexroth electric motion control doesn’t surprise you.