A research team from Kod*lab of the University of Pennsylvania recently took the upgraded six-legged robot, D-RHex 2.0, all the way to New Mexican deserts, in order to test for its dune-climbing and “parkouring” skills in harsh environment.
D-RHex 2.0 is actually the latest segment of the long-running RHex robotic research project. This project aims to develop a kind of all-terrain walking robot that can creatively get around steep, broken landscape and large obstacles. Its initial design was bio-inspired, heavily based on observations of locomotory control in several kinds of animals and insects—cockroaches in particular.
RHex is short for "Robotic Hexapod,” named after its prominent six springy legs—all of them curved, resilient, and capable of 360-degree free rotation, with an actuator in each “hip.” With help from these design features, this robot is capable of employing both “active" and “passive” actuation modes, allowing it to switch walking strategies easily and freely.
From two demo videos of RHex from Kod*lab back in May and July 2013, respectively, we can see that the robot can even do flips, leaps, pull-ups, as well as vaulting over steps and walls rising higher than its "hip joints,” not unlike what a human free-runner can accomplish.
The D-RHex 2.0 model tested in summer 2014 weights about 10 kilograms, equipped with GPS/IMU, a large variety of environmental sensors, as well as forward/downward facing cameras. It is hoped that after further improvements, the D-RHex 2.0 can eventually help scientists to collect important desert weather and wind erosion data in the future—starting from China, where desertification is ever-expanding and severely affecting about 400 million people’s lives.