Skiing Robot Races Down Slope

Move over, humans. Here comes the skiing robot...

 

Well, let's say the video above shows the robot's first runs on the slopes. This mechanical skier has been practicing, and it now can race downhill and even make turns to pass between gates, slalom-style.

That's what Bojan Nemec from the Jozef Stefan Institute in Slovenia told a packed house at the IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS) on Tuesday.

Nemec said his goal is to design a robot skier capable of autonomous skiing using the carving technique. (Apparently a robot can't ski using regular technique; it's too hard. But with carving, the skis practically ski themselves, according to Nemec.)

This isn't the first skiing robot, but it's bigger and heavier than earlier Japanese models, Nemec explained in his talk. Ideally, a skiing robot would be able to use off-the-shelf skis, rather than custom-made miniature ones.

His robot can. About the size of an eight-year-old child, the skiing bot looks a lot like a laptop on legs. Nemec got its skis at the local ski shop.

Here's a video describing the project:

 

The laptop control center plans the robot's trajectory, using a camera to measure its distance from the race gates. Gyros and force sensors help the bot stay stabilized on the slopes.

The robot carries a GPS unit, but it's used to help measure speed, not for trajectory planning. That makes sense, if you're trying to build a robot that works more like a human, relying on vision.

Sometimes their robot got away from them:

 

And sometimes, as Nemec said… "Well, it happens to the best!"

 

Here’s a sample of questions from the audience, which Nemec answered with great aplomb:

Can it stop? "Yes, of course," Nemec said as he paused the video that was running. The bot stopped. Everyone laughed. But yes, it can stop, sort of.

What would it need to be able to compete with humans in a downhill skiing race in, say, 2015? Pause. "I think people are expecting too much from this robot." Laughs. "But it would need additional degrees of freedom, and should be more robust -- once our robot escaped from our control, and it broke a lot of parts. So, more robust."

Why do we need a skiing robot anwyay? "Testing of ski equipment, or modeling of skiing for VR applications." Hmm. What about using it as a robot teacher, i.e. ski instructor, or for inspecting the ski slopes? Nemec was skeptical about those applications: "Not in the near future."

So a skiing robot might not be the conference winner in terms of usefulness, but it sure has my vote for the crazy cool award.

All videos by Bojan Nemec

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