First Steps for Hector the Robot Stick Insect

Elastic joints and six legs that function like those of a stick insect: Hector is the only walking robot of its kind in the whole world. Photo: Bielefeld University

Elastic joints and six legs that function like those of a stick insect: Hector is the only walking robot of its kind in the whole world. Photo: Bielefeld University

A research team at Bielefeld University has succeeded in teaching the only robot of its kind in the world how to walk. Its first steps have been recorded in a video (see below). The robot is called Hector, and its construction is modelled on a stick insect. Inspired by the insect, Hector has passive elastic joints and an ultralight exoskeleton. What makes it unique is that it is also equipped with a great number of sensors and it functions according to a biologically inspired decentralized reactive control concept: the Walknet. Read More →

Using Robotics in Food Production Processes

This is the team behind the robot "Gribbot ", who has a special eye for chicken. From the left: Elling Ruud Øye, Ekrem Misimi and Aleksander Eilertsen at SINTEF. Photo: TYD/SINTEF

This is the team behind the robot “Gribbot “, who has a special eye for chicken. From the left: Elling Ruud Øye, Ekrem Misimi and Aleksander Eilertsen at SINTEF. Photo: TYD/SINTEF

Can an industrial robot succeed both at removing the breast fillet from a chicken, and at the same time get more out of the raw materials? This is one of the questions to which researchers working on the CYCLE project now have the answer. They have built a fully-functional robot in the lab to automate the process of extracting breast fillets from chickens. This is a task normally performed by skilled human hands. Read More →

Robots in the Workplace


Small, mobile robots will learn to take over the tasks in the automotive industry that have not yet been possible to automate. This challenge is part of a 47 million kroner EU funded research project aimed at making robots available to small and medium-sized companies without the need of robotics expertise. Read More →

Riding Hexapod Walkers on Dusty Alien Worlds

Hexapod Walker

Speculative fiction is the home of countless machines that fly in space, yet resemble humanoid lifeforms. Scientists are now working on the next generation of robots that will blaze a trail in space by going where humans simply can’t maneuver on their own. Like so many things in the field of space exploration, the descendents of those working on these projects will be the ones to really reap the benefits of this research.

That being said, some scientists and engineers are beginning to consider the possibility of new types of craft that use human pilots while incorporating robotic structures to facilitate planetary exploration. Numerous remotely tele-operated vehicles like the Lunakhod and the Sojourner have already been used with great success to explore extraterrestrial surfaces. The use of human pilots in these past missions would of course been foolish, however, as  technology advances it’s somewhat easier to believe that such endeavors in the future may be realistic. Robotics will undoubtedly become increasingly important as space travel becomes commonplace in the years ahead. Automatic piloting aren’t the only thing that these units will be useful for, however. Semiautonomous navigation devices are old news. Treads won’t be able to explore extremely treacherous terrain on rocky worlds. We need to figure out ways to get humans involved in planetary surface exploration.

One viable option to accomplish this may involve hexapod walkers similar to the one shown above. These units would be far more stable over irregular terrain than treads or wheels. Astronauts landing on other planets wouldn’t be able to work with equipment that’s as straightforward as the buggy used on the Apollo 15, 16 and 17 missions. By using six symmetrical legs, new robotic vehicles could descend vast gorges without tumbling the way conventional vehicles do.

Robotic algorithms can do more than merely pilot units as well. As brain interfaces become safer, astronauts may be able to directly interface with their vehicles. Hexapod legs could actually become extensions of their physical bodies. Some people have proposed constructing piloted robotic vehicles that look like some form of giant humans in order to speed up the learning process. Nevertheless, the human body isn’t exactly a great thing to model a machine after. While the human body might be balanced in its organic form, it wouldn’t really work as a machine. Humans require liquid in the inner ear canal to remain balanced. Hexapod units derive balance from their structure.

Interestingly, not all of a six-legged robot’s legs are necessary to remain upright. If a few of the legs were damaged, it might be able to still move. That makes this design particularly useful for astronauts who would be operating away from technical crews in extremely hazardous environments. Training problems might still be pretty serious, which is why some people have proposed chicken walkers and numerous other sophisticated designs as alternatives.


Industrial robotics have been used in spacecraft rendezvous and docking simulation conditions so these may be the best approach in the future once we figure out how to get humans to planetary bodies. It’s not hard to believe their use will continue to grow as we continue to push the boundaries of space exploration in the future. As we continue moving forward with our space exploration efforts, the involvement of humans should be considered as increases in our technological capabilities are realized.  Brain interfaces and walker units may be integral components in these future planetary exploration efforts.


Toralf Boge, & Ou Ma (2011). Using Advanced Industrial Robotics for Spacecraft Rendezvous and Docking simulation Robotics and Automation (ICRA), 1-4 DOI: 10.1109/ICRA.2011.5980583

Wilcox, B. (1992). Robotic vehicles for planetary exploration Applied Intelligence, 2 (2), 181-193 DOI: 10.1007/BF00058762

Meet Baxter – the $22,000 Robot


Realistic views of robots are usually centered on grappling arms hidden behind safety cages, but Rethink Robotics is working to change that. The Massachusetts-based company produces the Baxter line of robots shown above. These machines are designed to adapt to their local environment so that even unskilled labor can train them to do work. Perhaps equally important, they’re affordable and designed with simplicity in mind. Read More →

Show Some Love for the Data Glove


Data Gloves (or wired gloves or cybergloves), as the name implies, are computer input devices that are worn on the hand like a glove. They utilize motion trackers to translate finger manipulations into electrical signals. In the near future, this technology might revolutionize the way that disabled people are able to access computer resources. Read More →

Why Robots Scare Their Masters

One of the most talked about subjects in robotics today is the uncanny valley hypothesis. So many works of speculative fiction feature robots in relationships with humans that it’s become a cliche, but this idea states that there’s a dip in the graph of human comfort levels when they approach machines that look too much like people. Devices that are disturbingly close to organic life forms often repulse human observers. However, the emotional response becomes far more positive as the machine becomes even closer to humanity. Read More →

Privacy Among Cyborgs

Artificial eyes are a common theme in science fiction. A certain television character from the early 1990s made the idea popular. While there have been a few prototypes in the real world, mechanical ocular implants aren’t regular medical devices just yet. When they come out, however, they will be welcome additions to many ophthalmology programs. Read More →

Artificial Cerebellum in Robotics Developed

University of Granada researchers have developed an artificial cerebellum (a biologically-inspired adaptive microcircuit) that controls a robotic arm with human-like precision. The cerebellum is the part of the human brain that controls the locomotor system and coordinates body movements. Read More →

Robotics & Mechanical Limbs

The BrainGate implantable microelectrode array

As people continue to struggle with problems involving organ donation, a few robotic engineers continue to push the boundaries between humanity and machinery. A recent report in Nature (cited below) showed that two patients were able to overcome some aspects of their paralysis by way of an implant. Reaching and grabbing motions were possible by way of a carefully designed robotic arm. One individual involved in the study was able to enjoy a drink by herself. She didn’t seem to require assistance outside of the prosthetic limb. Read More →