Here's why I think building a robot ape is a clever idea: like a real ape, it's sort of a cross between a humanoid and a quadruped, in that it spends most of the time moving around on four limbs. But, it can still stand up on its hind legs and give itself some extra height and a couple of manipulators when it needs to. I'm not sure that this specific capability is what DFKI (the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence) is working on with their "ape-like robotic system," but hey, they've got a fully armed and legged and operational robot ape, so I'm pretty sure that this biquadrupedal manipulation thing is inevitable now.
This robot is part of a project called iStruct, but for the life of me I can't puzzle out what it's actually about. There's a summary that does a remarkable job of not really communicating anything tangible:
Aim of the project iStruct is the development of a robotic system as well as of biologically inspired structural components which, if applied on the robotic system, effectively improve the locomotion and mobility characteristics. In order to achieve this goal, an improved perception of the environment and the own condition is needed. The intelligent structures to be developed contain a variety of functions which cannot only extend the already existing locomotion behaviors of robots, but also permit further relevant applications like the contemporaneous use as carrier and sensor system. This way, different functionalities are united in one construction unit.
If I had to guess, I'd say that the point of this project is to design intelligent structures (like actuated spines) that fuse sensors, actuators, and control systems into structural subunits. The robot itself is a test platform for these intelligent structures. But I could be way off.
The important take-home message, I think, is this: there is now potential for a future that's a combination of a robot apocalypse and Planet of the Apes. Good news for ape-like robots, bad news for humans.
[ DFKI ]
Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.