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Skiing Robot Races Down Slope

Move over, humans! This autonomous robot skier can race down a snowy slope, slalom-style.

2 min read

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

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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 earlierJapanesemodels, 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:

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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:

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

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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

The Conversation (0)

How Robots Can Help Us Act and Feel Younger

Toyota’s Gill Pratt on enhancing independence in old age

10 min read
An illustration of a woman making a salad with robotic arms around her holding vegetables and other salad ingredients.
Dan Page

By 2050, the global population aged 65 or more will be nearly double what it is today. The number of people over the age of 80 will triple, approaching half a billion. Supporting an aging population is a worldwide concern, but this demographic shift is especially pronounced in Japan, where more than a third of Japanese will be 65 or older by midcentury.

Toyota Research Institute (TRI), which was established by Toyota Motor Corp. in 2015 to explore autonomous cars, robotics, and “human amplification technologies,” has also been focusing a significant portion of its research on ways to help older people maintain their health, happiness, and independence as long as possible. While an important goal in itself, improving self-sufficiency for the elderly also reduces the amount of support they need from society more broadly. And without technological help, sustaining this population in an effective and dignified manner will grow increasingly difficult—first in Japan, but globally soon after.

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