ASH Can Walk, Climb and Crawl Aboard a Ship

November 7, 2012, By Sanjeev Ramachandran

Remember how everyone went all of a dither with the Gangnam-dancing? Apparently, the dance moves have slipped from humans to machines too.

Have you heard of CHARLI-2, a 4-foot tall robot who has high mobility? Well, that ‘bot was an award-winning machine who could also go Gangnam-style!

CHARLI-2 is getting a major upgrade from Dennis Hong’s team at Virginia Tech. The new machine to rise will be called ASH or Autonomous Shipboard Humanoid, and this one will have titanium springs in his legs and butt which would help him have a more human-like movement instead of the mechanical, robotic walk.

Humanoids have rigid limbs for robotic durability but then there are limitations in movement. To circumnavigate that, ASH is built with a more flexible structure for better motility.

ASH was, or at least the lower part of ASH was, displayed by the team at the Office of Naval Research’s biennial science and technology expo for the first time.“He’s a significant departure from the traditional humanoid robot,” says Hong.

The Office of Naval Research is funding a program called SAFFiR, and ASH is a part of that program. SAFFiR aims to create an autonomous robot to help with shipboard disasters like fire.

Normally a humanoid can walk, maintaining its balance, on flat surfaces, and they wouldn’t be able to stay stable on a rolling deck, or climb through “knee-knocker” passageways or ascend ladders and stairs. This is why ASH, designed according to “biological principals”, is in the picture.

The robot’s legs and hindquarters are fixed with “compliant linear actuators”. “You don’t walk like a robot. You store potential energy, and then you reset [your leg], like a spring… It helps you keep your balance after you’re knocked off it. It’s more energy-efficient,” Hong explains.

During the expo, Hong programmed ASH’s legs to move about and demonstrated the hydraulics and titanium springs. But the robot needs a lot of work done on him before he gets fully functional.

The team didn’t venture any estimate on when ASH would be completed. The Navy, apparently, will start testing him aboard a ship next year.

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