CITEC Unveils HECTOR, the Stick Insect Hexapod

HECTOR incorporates efficient insect-style locomotion systems into a bio-inspired robot

1 min read
CITEC Unveils HECTOR, the Stick Insect Hexapod

HECTOR is the University of Bielefeld’s newest robot, so new in fact that it doesn’t even totally work yet, which both exciting and slightly disappointing at the same time. HECTOR stands for “hexapod cognitive autonomously operating robot,” and it’s based on everybody’s favorite stick-like insect, a stick insect. It’s got a lightweight but strong exoskeleton, along with six legs with innovative joint drive systems that are intended to work just as smoothly as muscles do:

Each of these highly integrated drives is equipped with all the necessary sensors, the complete control electronics with its own processor as well as a sensorised elastic coupling for which a patent has been applied. This makes it possible to control each of the 18 leg joints on the basis of biologically inspired control algorithms and, for example, react by yielding during collisions or interactions with human beings.

An interdisciplinary partnership between a group researching the mechatronics of biomimetic actuators and the Department of Biological Cybernetics, HECTOR still has a ways to go before it’s autonomously skittering around. That said, the tricky bits, the legs, look to be at least in the functional prototype stage, as you can see in the vid:

When completed, HECTOR will be one meter long and able to carry payloads of up to 30kg, including customized interchangeable sensor systems.


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Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman

“I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.”

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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