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Human-machine interface keeps robot balanced

12 August 2015

MIT researchers are working on a new human-machine interface that enables a human operator to help a robot maintain its balance and mirror human reflexes.

PhD student Joao Ramos demonstrates the Balance Feedback Interface, a system that enables an operator to control the balance and movements of a robot via an exoskeleton and motorised platform (photo: Melanie Gonick/MIT)

Deep in the basement of MIT’s Building 3, a two-legged robot named HERMES is wreaking controlled havoc: punching through drywall, smashing soft drink cans, kicking over rubbish buckets and karate-chopping boards in half.

Its actions, however, are not its own. Just a few feet away, PhD student Joao Ramos stands on a platform, wearing an exoskeleton and his every move is translated instantly to HERMES.

The exercises are meant to demonstrate the robot’s unique balance-feedback interface. Without this interface, while the robot may successfully punch through a wall, it would also fall headlong into that wall.

The interface allows a human to remotely feel the robot’s shifting weight, and quickly adjust the robot’s balance by shifting his own weight. As a result, the robot can carry out momentum-driven tasks — like punching through walls, or swinging a bat — while maintaining its balance.

Ramos says the interface takes advantage of a human’s split-second reflexes, which give the robot much faster reaction times than robots that adjust their balance based on visual feedback from onboard cameras.

YouTube video clip courtesy of Melanie Gonick/MIT

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