A new generation of ambulatory machines is striding to market
新一代能行走的机器正大步迈向市场

与机器人同行 Walking with robots-书迷号 shumihao.com

It is easy to conclude, as many do, that these new walking robots simply mimic nature. But that is not quite the case. A quadruped, being a stable platform, is a good starting point from which to design a walking robot. After co-ordinating the four limbs, getting a good balance and fitting a system of vision that lets the robot work out where to put its feet, Spot’s designers ended up with a dog-oid. Michael Perry, head of business development for Boston Dynamics, says that is not surprising because nature has been developing efficient designs for a long time.
很容易就此得出这些新型的行走机器人只是在模仿自然的结论,很多人也正是这么想的。但事实并非完全如此。四足是一种稳定的平台,是设计行走机器人一个合适的出发点。点点的设计师们在协调了机器人的四肢、取到了良好平衡,并安装了能让机器人确定往哪落脚的视觉系统后,最终创造出了一款狗形机器人。波士顿动力的业务发展主管迈克尔·佩里(Michael Perry)说这并不奇怪,因为大自然一直都在发展有效的设计。

Another example of art evolving to imitate nature occurred during the design of Digit. This inherited its ostrich looks from Cassie, a two-legged torso which Agility sold to a number of research groups. Cassie’s developers had to find a way to stop some of the robot’s actuator motors from working against each other. Their solution turned out to look like a pair of bird’s legs.
工艺设计不断演变去模仿自然的另一个例子可以在Digit的设计过程中找到。Digit那鸵鸟式的外观传承自机器人Cassie,这款由敏捷机器人公司设计的双足加躯干机器人卖给了许多研究团队。Cassie的开发人员必须找到一种方法来阻止机器人的一些致动器马达相互对抗。他们拿出的解决方案看上去像是鸟的两条腿。

Cassie subsequently acquired arms and evolved into Digit as the result of the engineers’ attempts to solve another problem. When it swung a leg forward Cassie’s body twisted a little, which sometimes caused the robot to fall over if it was walking quickly. In nature, some animals use tails to improve their balance when manoeuvring at speed. Borrowing this idea, Agility’s researchers attached a pair of tail-like appendages, one on each side of the robot’s torso, to improve its mobility. That worked. Then they turned the appendages into a pair of arms. These can catch the robot should it fall, and help it get up again.
后来,Cassie因为工程师要解决另一个问题而获得了双臂,演变成了Digit。Cassie向前迈腿时,身体会轻微扭转,有时会导致它在快速行走时跌倒。在自然界中,有些动物在快速运动时会利用尾巴来改善平衡。敏捷机器人公司的研究人员借鉴了这一点,在Cassie躯干的两侧各加了一个尾状附件,以提高其行动稳定性。这个设计挺管用。后来他们把这对附件变成了两条手臂。如果机器人摔倒了,它能用它们撑住身体并站起来。

The arms can perform other useful tasks, too, such as moving boxes in a warehouse. Digit can carry up to 20kg. Distributing and delivering goods is likely to be an important application for walking robots, reckons Dr Hurst, especially now that e-commerce has boomed as a result of restrictions imposed in the wake of covid-19. Some automated distribution centres are set up for conventional fixed and wheeled robotic systems, but these have usually been built this way from scratch. Most warehouses are designed around people. Robots with legs, which move in a similar way to human workers, would fit right in.
手臂也可以执行其他有用的任务,比如在仓库中搬箱子。Digit最大承重20公斤。赫斯特认为,配送货物很可能会是行走机器人的一个重要应用,尤其是新冠肺炎爆发后实施的限制措施推动了电子商务蓬勃发展。一些自动化配送中心围绕常规的固定式和轮式机器人系统而建,但它们通常从一开始就是这么设计的。大多数仓库都是围绕人设计的。有腿的机器人能像人类工人那样移动,因此可以直接参与进去。

With further development, walking robots will undertake more complex tasks, such as home deliveries. Ford is working on this with a Digit robot that rides in the back of a van. Though robots with wheels already make some deliveries, reaching many homes is tricky, and may involve climbing steps or stairs. “Legs are how you would want to get up to most front doors to deliver a package,” observes Dr Hurst.
随着进一步的改进,行走机器人将承担起送货上门等更复杂的任务。福特正在做这方面的探索,在它的货车车厢里带上一台Digit机器人。尽管轮式机器人已经承担了一些送货的工作,但很多地方要送货上门还有困难,而且还可能需要上下台阶或楼梯。“要把包裹送到大多数人的家门口都得用腿。”赫斯特说。

Exactly how this might be done remains to be seen. Unless they are on a preprogrammed mission, most mobile robots require an operator to provide basic instructions to, say, proceed to a certain point. The robot then walks there by itself, avoiding obstacles and climbing or descending steps and stairs along the way. This means a walking robot making door-to-door deliveries might need some kind of digital map of the neighbourhood, to know in advance the paths it can traverse and the flower beds it should avoid. That might involve a big data-acquisition effort, much like those used to build digital maps for driverless cars. Similarly, in a factory or a warehouse, a walking robot would need to be shown the ropes by a human being before it was let loose to work on its own.
具体如何实现还要拭目以待。除非是在执行预先编程的任务,否则大多数行走机器人都需要操作员提供基本指令,比如前往某个特定地点。然后,机器人自己走去那里,在沿途避开障碍物,上下台阶和楼梯。这意味着送货上门的行走机器人可能需要某种社区数字地图,以便提前知道可以穿越的道路和需要绕开的花坛。这可能需要大量的数据采集工作,就像为无人驾驶汽车制作数字地图一样。同样,在工厂或仓库中,行走机器人将需要先接受人类的指导才能开始自行工作。

Self determination
自主自决

A fully autonomous robot that could walk into an unknown environment and decide for itself what it needed to do remains a long way off. One of the hardest tasks for such a device would be caring autonomously for someone at home. The robot would have to be able to make numerous complex decisions, such as administering the correct medicine, deciding whether or not to let strangers into the house or knowing when to take the dog for a walk. Yet many roboticists think they will get there, or at least close to it, one day.
要研发出完全自主、能走进未知环境并自己决定该做什么的机器人,还有很长一段路要走。对于这种机器来说,最艰巨的任务之一将是在家中自主照顾人。机器人将必须能够做出大量复杂的决定,比如正确用药,决定是否让陌生人进屋,或者知晓何时该去遛狗了。不过,许多机器人专家都认为机器人有朝一日将能做到这些,或者至少接近于做到。

In the meantime, the new generation of robots now being developed will keep building up the machines’ capabilities. At Boston Dynamics Mr Perry reckons that, besides surveying, Spot will find many roles in inspection and maintenance. Such robots can, for instance, enter hazardous environments like electrical substations without them having to be taken off the grid, as is necessary whenever a human engineer goes inside.
与此同时,正在开发的新一代机器人将继续加强功能。波士顿动力的佩里认为,除测绘外,点点还将在检查和维护工作中发挥多种作用。例如,可以让这样的机器人进入变电站这类危险的环境,就不必像人类工程师进入变电站时那样必须先切断设施电源。

Instead of just looking for problems, Spot’s next trick will be to take action to resolve them, such as throwing a switch or turning a valve. It will do this with a single manipulator arm which makes it look less like a dog and more like a long-necked Brachiosaurus. A prototype of this configuration is already running around the company’s offices, opening and shutting doors.
除了要找出问题,点点的下一个本领将是采取行动解决问题,例如扳动开关或转动阀门。它将用单条机械臂来完成这样的操作,这会让它看起来不大像狗了,而更像脖子长长的腕龙。这种构造的一个原型已经在波士顿动力的办公区使用,负责开门关门。

This version of Spot should go on sale next year. As for Atlas, Boston Dynamics’s humanoid, that is currently too expensive to spawn a commercial version. But the lessons being learnt from it will help provide the engineering needed for other robots to come, says Mr Perry.
这个版本的点点应该会在明年上市。至于波士顿动力的人形机器人Atlas,它的价格目前还过于昂贵,不能量产商用版。但从它身上吸取的经验教训将有助于提供研发其他机器人所需的工程技术,佩里说。

Some of these walking robots of the future may not be deployed on this world. At Caltech, Dr Ames thinks robots with legs will have advantages in planetary exploration—negotiating difficult terrain and entering caves, for example. Meanwhile, back on Earth, he and some colleagues at other institutions are using the new knowledge of robotic locomotion to develop lightweight prosthetic devices for those unable to walk easily, and powered exoskeletons for those who cannot walk at all. In a world not made for wheels, this raises the tantalising prospect that walking robots will one day help rid the world of wheelchairs. ■
有些未来的行走机器人可能不会用在地球上。加州理工学院的埃姆斯认为带腿的机器人在行星探索中会具有优势,比如它们可以穿越困难的地形、深入洞穴。与此同时,在地球上,埃姆斯和其他机构的一些同事正在利用机器人运动的新知识为行走不便的人开发轻巧的假肢设备,为完全无法行走的人开发动力外骨骼。在一个不能靠轮子通行无阻的世界里,这展现了诱人的前景:有朝一日,行走机器人将让这个世界不再需要轮椅。