Could we soon see “Real Steel” or “Pacific Rim” come to life? It sure does at least look somewhat plausible, as MIT researchers have developed HERMES, an advanced robot that is capable of manipulating objects and environments in nearly the same way as humans do. But this isn’t just a project design of a robot only mimicking the actions of its human controller; it can also learn and make precise movements that weren’t possible with prior robots, thanks to its impressive sensor suite.
The HERMES robot is controlled by a human operator who wears a remote controller exoskeleton. Movements carried out by the human operator are directly transferred to the humanoid robot with human-like reflexes and haptic feedback in return to the human. This means that HERMES can successfully perform actions such as picking up objects, delicately pouring coffee into a cup and even punching through walls should the need arise.
HERMES was developed to help out in emergency situations that would otherwise be too dangerous for human responders. Human-like robots with similar dexterity would be prime candidates for entering tackling environments that would be too dangerous for human first responders (after all, what better than a humanoid robot to explore environments that were designed for and by humans). If all of this sounds familiar, look no further than DARPA’s Robotics Challenge, which implored research teams to develop robots that could “mitigate the impacts of natural or man-made disasters.”
Robots developed for the DARPA Robots Challenge were tasked with “driving alone, walking through rubble, tripping circuit breakers, turning valves and climbing stairs.” But HERMES goes one step further by attempting to “put the human’s brain inside the robot,” said PhD candidate Joao Ramos, who is currently working on HERMES. In its current iteration, HERMES is controlled primarily by the human operator, but fellow PhD candidate Albert Wang sees a future where HERMES gains a bit more independence.
“We’ve designed the robot to be stronger than a person so we’d imagine that in the future we want to merge some level of autonomous control along with the human’s intelligence.”
It’s certainly interesting research and we can’t wait to see where these gifted researchers go from here with their robotics efforts.