Virginia Tech’s Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory team will be featured on PBS’ “NOVA scienceNOW,” hosted by David Pogue and “Through the Wormhole” narrated by Morgan Freeman. The shows will recognize the team’s various competition-winning robots of RoMeLa.
The star of the show will likely be DARwIn-OP, a kid-sized, humanoid soccer-playing robot. It has two consecutive victories at the international RoboCup soccer competition in its size league.
DARwIn-OP’s "big brother," CHARLI-2, is no slouch either. This robot is also a two-time, consecutive champion of the RoboCup soccer competition in the adult-sized humanoid league. Both are autonomous robots, meaning that during the tournaments there are no controls — they process the actions and play on their own.
“CHARLI is a full-size humanoid; it’s actually the United States’ first autonomous, full-size humanoid that walks,” said Coleman Knabe, a graduate researcher at the lab.
Both DARwIn-OP and CHARLI-2 have been in the spotlight for a while, but RoMeLa has other projects in the works. One of the up-and-coming projects in the lab is SAFFiR.
“SAFFiR is intended to be a shipboard firefighting robot,” said John Seminatore. “The goal of SAFFiR is to have a robot capable of autonomous decision making, that’s able to fight a fire and hopefully put it out.”
According to Seminatore, the tour coordinator and graduate researcher at the lab, ship fires are incredibly dangerous. He said a ship simply isn’t a place where a robot with tracks or four legs will be able to navigate because of the nature of bulkheads and the narrow staircases commonly found in ships. This is precisely why the Autonomous Shipboard Humanoid, or ASH, the first robot in the SAFFiR project, is a two-legged robot that will be able to use human equipment and navigate successfully inside of a ship.
RoMeLa’s history is full of a number of different projects, which range from firefighting robots like ASH to projects like the THALeR project, which is an effort to build a 30-foot tall three-legged robot.
“Normally, when you’re controlling a robot, it keeps itself balanced at all times,” Seminatore said. “If you look at how robots walk, it’s sort of a shuffle; they are never off balance. When humans walk they push themselves forward and get off-balance.”