There’s At Least One Robot Humanity Doesn’t Have To Fear

There’s At Least One Robot Humanity Doesn’t Have To Fear

As robots get larger, smarter, faster, stronger and more agile, there’s good reason for humanity to be a little worried about the day they eventually turn on us. Unless all robots end up like UCLA’s BALLU, which is really nothing more than a pair of skinny robot legs attached to a helium balloon.

BALLU — which stands for Buoyancy Assisted Lightweight Legged Unit — is the brainchild of Dennis Hong, who works out of UCLA’s Robotics & Mechanisms Laboratory. Realising that the biggest challenge for a bipedal robot was still the constant pull of gravity, Hong wanted to experiment with a bot that wasn’t always at risk of falling over and breaking.

BALLU’s helium-filled mylar torso isn’t completely weightless, it does rely on its legs to remain upright. But it’s so incredibly light its legs are almost twig-like, with basic cable-driven knees allowing it to walk forward, backward and left or right. It’s remarkably stable on its feet as a result of its balloon body, and it can even walk across water without sinking and frying all of its electronics.

A robot that can be defeated with a couple of safety pins and pruning shears should give humanity a sigh of relief about the future, but what good would a bot like BALLU be in terms of practical functionality? A larger balloon torso would give it enough lift to carry sensors or other simple tools into areas too dangerous for humans to tread. And its creators are already working on a quadruped version with more lifting and load capacity. One day you could have a deflated robot stashed away in your glove box to help with emergencies — as long as they don’t involve a cactus or anything pointy.

[RoMeLa via IEEE Spectrum]

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