The German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) has taken some cues from nature to build a robotic ape that can traverse its environment on all fours. As the DFKI points out, many moving robots aren't constructed with feet that can interact with the ground at multiple points, but by using a more natural foot shape that touches the ground in several ways, a robot's mobility can be significantly improved. In this case, the robotic ape's two hind feet make contact at three different points each, at the heel and beneath two large toes, while its hands use a large, curved block to brace its body during movement.
Complex feet and a whole lot of sensors
To keep the arms and legs in sync and properly touching the ground, the DFKI outfitted each foot and hand with a variety of sensors. Force sensors allow the robot to detect how it's aligned and moving, and proximity sensors allow it to properly step and make sure that it doesn't run into anything. Temperature and acceleration sensors are built into the robot elsewhere.
The DFKI's goal with the project is to develop better ways for robots to move about. Its general theory is that by carefully integrating basic, non-moving parts into the rest of the robot's system, that the robot as a whole will be able to move better. On the ape — which the researchers are calling iStruct — that allows the robot to use basic movements to balance itself on slopes. It looks like the ape's advancements are due to stop at that, however — the DFKI appears to be nearly finished with the project, listing its end date as this August.