Portuguese scientists are developing robots to help people with mobility problems.
The researchers in Guimarães are trying to create robots that can react to unexpected situations and adapt their movements accordingly.
The scientists want them to be able to make decisions for themselves.
One of the researchers at Minho University, Miguel Oliveira, outlined what they are trying to achieve: “The purpose of this experiment is to test our system of motion, to know how the senses would adapt to an irregular walking surface. It is what you do, for example, when you are skateboarding.”
To improve their navigation, robots must have their own form of senses, like touch and the ability to detect vibration.
Scientists then have to translate that into what is called the device’s adaptive and intelligent mobility.
Researcher Vitor Matos explained: “It has to do with the way a robot’s foot touches the ground, the position of the limbs, the force exerted by the muscles, information in the system of balance, whether it is leaning or falling down.”
It is hoped these new techniques could be used in future motorised prosthetics, but there is still a long way to go and many challenges the scientists have to overcome.
Professor Cristina Santos from the university’s department of electronics said: “If there’s a problem, if the robot stumbles, how can it react, how do the different motors react so that its movement is coordinated? If it is climbing, how can it generate the movement to walk properly, like we do? How can it climb stairs, avoid obstacles and how can it intuitively change its movement?”
The project is being developed by students and staff from the department of industrial electronics at the University of Minho who hope to have it completed by 2013.