The lines between science fiction and reality continue to blur as robotics and 3D printing technology advance, making machines more realistic and human-like than before. While this may conjur images of Terminator-esque machines, biped and humanoid robots can also allow us to reverse the gaze, in order to better observe and understand our very own human behaviour.
That is, in essense, what French inventor, technical consultant, and robotics designer Fabrice Noreils has spent the past several months trying to do. His project, Artbot, is to design and build a biped robot which imitates human emotional and physical behaviours. After spending months designing and printing all of the parts, the robot has finally been fully assembled.
Artbot stands at 65cm tall, and each 3D printed piece was made using the Form1+ 3D printer. Nobeils concedes that since he started printing in November, he had to go through several replacement printers before finding the one that he was happy with. “I finally have a printer which is working very well and I am always surprise with the quality of the prints. All the parts fit well together, no need to do extra adjustments,” he said, adding that creating the robot would not have been possible without his Form1+ and their UK-based support team.
Although the robot is currently just a skeleton, Noreils does plan to design an outer shell, also using the Form1+ 3D printer, to give it a smoother and perhaps more realistic appearance. “A key element in this project is to design ‘artistic’ robots, that is to say, the care taken in the appearance of the robot (“design”) is essential,” said Norbreils. Nevertheless, its current form allows us to see the details, wiring, and multiple parts used to bring this machine to life. Some of the features include an “old fashioned” automated head with moving antenas, eyes, and jaw, a “PIXY” cam, articulated trunk and pelvis, and fully articulated feet.
According to Noreils, the feet were the most complex parts to make, as each one consists of a frame in resin, a silicone layer, a spring, a motor and pressure sensors. He ended up having to re-construct the foot design, after noticing a few problems with the robot’s stability. For instance, the axis of rotation of the ankle was too close to the heel, meaning that the robot needed to flex forward to keep his balance. This was addressed by lengthening the foot, including the forefoot and the midfoot. He also had to reposition the motor in charge of the forefoot since the distance between the axis and the ankle was too small.
Ensuring absolutely perfect stability is key, since the goal of the project is to have the robot move and behave like a real human. Nobeils has even been working on a study of the human gait in order to better understand and replicate exactly how we walk. “To make a biped walking machine, it seems to me essential to understand as we walk,” he wrote on his website. His highly detailed study takes into account not only how the legs and feet interact with each other and with the ground, but how the movements of the pelvis and chest affect everyone’s unique, personal style of walking. In addition, he has provided an outline of the software architecture developed to generate and run ODOI gaits. He is currently usingGeomagic CAD software to design the parts, and the electronics so far mainly consist ofdynamixel motors.
While the main goal is to create a humanoid robot that is as realistic in its appearance and movement as possible, Nobreils outlines three other key goals. The first is the outline a business plan in order to assess the state of the market and find an acceptable niche in the industry that would be able to use this technology to generate profits for small businesses.
Secondly, he plans on assessing the psychological element. “Humanoid robotics are not a trivial thing,” he writes. “Some people are searching for the perfect imitation, and we should be interested in their ‘deeper’ motivations for doing so.” He would therefore like to invite psychologists and psychoanalysts to share their insights.
Finally, Nobreils is interested in hearing back from fellow robotic and 3D printing enthusiasts in order to hear their thoughts and suggestions, and to open up his ambitious project to the entire maker community.
Not only is the construction and detail applied to the robot quite impressive, the studies and aim of his Artbot project are valuable because could teach us just as much as robotics as about human movement itself. As we incorporate more and more technology into our lives, it’s worth stepping back to think about what makes us distincly ‘us’ in the first place.
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