“You can have the biggest, baddest, toughest robot on the planet, but if its battery life is 10 or 20 minutes, as many are right now, that robot cannot possibly function in an emergency situation, when lives are at stake,” Steve Buerger of Sandia’s intelligent systems control department said Tuesday.
Buerger is leading the project in cooperation with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Open Source Robotics Foundation and other R&D organizations.
The collaboration is split into two projects – STEPPR, also known as Sandia Transmission Efficient Prototype Promoting Research; and Wanderer, short for Walking Anthropomorphic Novelly Driven Efficient Robot for Emergency Response.
“We take advantage of dynamic characteristics that are common to a wide variety of legged behaviors and add a set of ‘support elements,’ including springs and variable transmissions, that keep the motors operating at more efficient speed-torque conditions, reducing losses,” Buerger said, describing the work.
These support components help the robots automatically adjust the power they use to move their joints when confronted with altered environments, such as an uneven terrain or a change from a level walking field to an uphill climb, he added.
The laboratory said it plans to showcase developments in its work on Wanderer and STEPPR on the sidelines of the DARPA Robotics Challenge in June 2015.