No Couch Is Safe from the CLASH Cloth-Climbing Robot

UC Berkeley's CLASH robot uses tiny little spines to scuttle up loose fabric surfaces faster than you can say "get it off my drapes!"

2 min read
No Couch Is Safe from the CLASH Cloth-Climbing Robot

UC Berkeley has a long history of developing innovative legged robots: There was ROACH, there was BOLT, there was DASH. DASH, a cockroach-Inspired design, was a very simple, very fast hexapedal robot that could scuttle along the ground at 15 body lengths per second.

Now meet the latest addition to this family of robot bugs: CLASH, pictured above, is a vertically-enabled successor to DASH, and it's designed to zip up vertical or near-vertical cloth surfaces with the aid of tiny little spiny toes. It's sort of like what you'd get if you put DASH and SpinyBot together in a dark room along with a 3D printer and some Barry Manilow (or whatever it is robots are listening to these days).

For a vertical climbing robot, CLASH is surprisingly quick. It may actually be one of the quickest climbing robots in existence, able to move upwards at 24 centimeters per second, which is really quite a lot faster than it sounds:

Part of the reason that CLASH can scramble around so fast is that it's small and lightweight with a simple, but clever, design. CLASH is 10 centimeters long and weighs only 15 grams. The back-and-forth climbing motion of four legs (the back two are passive) is entirely driven by one single motor that gives CLASH a gait frequency of a brisk 34 strides per second.

The actual gripping and climbing technique is integrated into the beautiful series of linkages that connect CLASH's legs to its motor and to each other, making the mechanism completely passive all the way from initial grip to retraction. The battery and electronics are all onboard, and are located in the tail to help keep the robot balanced.

Next up is to endow CLASH with the ability to turn (which will likely involve the addition of a second actuator somewhere), and modification of the rear legs to allow the robot to scamper along horizontal surfaces too. And while CLASH is currently restricted to climbing things like fabric and carpet that it can sink its claws into, other methods of passive adhesion (like some of that gecko tape) might give CLASH a little extra versatility.

"CLASH: Climbing Vertical Loose Cloth" was presented by P. Birkmeyer, A. G. Gillies, and R. S. Fearing from the University of California, Berkeley, at the IEEE International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in San Francisco last week. Special thanks to Paul Birkmeyer for the CLASH videos, and for forgiving me for mistakenly suggesting that he was at Stanford, not Berkeley, which is just about the worst screw-up I could have possibly made.

[ UC Berkeley's Biomimetic Millisystems Lab ]

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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
LightGreen

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

"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.

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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