May 31, 2016 | By Kira

A robotics designer has created a 3D printed walking robot that mimics human gait and can express distinct moods, from confidence to depression, via it’s body language.

From healthcare to retail sales, construction to children’s toys, 3D printed robots are set to become a daily presence in our lives. Yet even when they are helping us in the most humane ways possible—the humanoid bots deployed in elderly care facilities, for example—today’s robots are still distinctly non-human in their looks, movements and interactions, and can therefore create fear or discomfort amongst the very people they are meant to help.

Robotics designer Fabrice Noreils understands this dilemma, and is seeking to create an aesthetically pleasing robot that mimics human movements, expressions and physical behaviors.

His project, ODOI, is well underway, and he has so far succeeded in designing a 3D printed bipedal robot frame that can walk with an innovative human-like gait, display distinct emotions, and will eventually feature artistically designed 3D printed shells to fit into various real-life environments.

3D printed robot skeleton

We last heard from Noreils last year, when his 3D printed Artbot project had reached its initial stage of completion. Artbot is a 65cm tall 3D printed robot made using a Form1+ 3D printer. What made Artbot distinct was that Noreils paired his robot’s design with a comprehensive study on the human gait— 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.

With ODOI, Noreils has further refined his initial concept: “The main objective is to design a medium size humanoid robot (around 90 cm) and create a niche market which is considering humanoid robot like a piece art,” he explained. “The robot will be able to walk like a human, thanks to the innovative design of mechanical structure and associated algorithms, adopt postures which arouse feeling from audience and, very important point, equipped with outfits/out shells created by famous designers in order to meet different communities’ expectations.”

Articulated foot

The robot’s primary brackets were once again 3D printed on a Form1+ resin 3D printer, with the exception of the pelvic bracket, which required aluminum reinforcement. The ODOI robot consists of articulated feet, an articulated pelvis, and an articulated torso, all of which can be programmed to interact depending on the selected gait.

For the first objective, Noreils designed two algorithms for innovative walking gaits based on his extensive study of human movement: a straight gait and a turning gait. Both are shown in the videos below:

Beyond just walking, however, the ODOI robot has the special ability to mimic human emotions and physical behaviors via its body language. These behaviors are meant to trigger emotions in the audience, and potentially make them feel more comfortable around the humanized-bots.

The first example is a ‘depressive robot.’ Noreils analyzed the characteristics of a depressed individual’s gait—reduced speed, reduced stride length, reduced arm swing, and rounded shoulders—and translated them into a new algorithm.

The challenge here, from a technical point of view, is to create a gait with torso/shoulder thrust forward and no control over the arms (torque off on the servos),” he explained. The video below, however, shows that the gait is indeed feasible and “quite expressive”:

The second posture is quite the opposite—the shows the robot looking cool and casual, one might even say confident. The action is leaning against a wall, and while this may seem like a mundane or normal posture, the fact that the robot does it so naturally is quite impressive.

“I am programming the robot to mimic some of the postures we (as human being) exhibit in our daily life. Program some of these mundane postures and trigger them at the appropriate moment can really surprise the audience.  Sit, get up from a chair or a bench, take an object, walk with different moods, leaning against a wall, crossing an obstacle… are some of the postures I am studying.”

According to Noreils, the main benefits of his approach to mechanical design are a more ‘fluid’ and human-like movement (“no more bending knees”) omni-directional walking, the possibility to change the stride length, and the ability to preserve energy by eliminating the knee-bend, a major benefit since the robot is battery-powered.

While the first objective of his project—programming the gaits and postures—is nearing completion, there are two remaining goals: to design a connected controller, and to design artistic and beautiful 3D printed shells. “I think that Artistic Design is really very important if one want to introduce robots in the human environment that can be accepted and/or tolerated by the population. One step further will be the development of “artistic robots” that can be considered as piece of Art,” explained Noreils.

To this end, he has partnered with Canadian artist Dacosta Bayley, and plans to collaborate with other artists and designers to create outfits and shells that will match various communities’ expectations. Not only will this make the robots more accepted and tolerated by the public, but it will also increase their marketability. Some initial sketches of Bayley’s concepts are shown below:

Noreils is not the only robotics engineer working to improve human-robot interactions by creating more physically appealing, functional, and human-like humanoids. Recently, we have covered Boston Dynamics’ 3D printed Atlas project; Jinn, an educational 3D printed robot; Disney’s 3D printed soft-robots; and who could forget the creepy-yet-impressive 3D printed Scarlett Johansson-bot?

As robots become a part of our daily lives, it will be more and important for us not only to tolerate them, but perhaps to accept and appreciate their presence wherever possible. ODOI and other 3D printed robots are a reassuring step in the right direction.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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fabrice wrote at 6/2/2016 5:09:51 PM:

Hello Chris, although actuators are in series and the feet are a bit heavy, the walking gait is totally different from the ZMP one. The feet are articulated so that it is possible to generate walking gait without the need to bend knees. It is also possible to change the stride length but in this case the torso must participate actively to the walking gait (like human actually). I do agree that we have to learn movement patterns and this is why I implement different daily life postures. To get rid off the inverse kinematics part, the robot must be "aware of its body structure" - quite a big challenge!

Chris C wrote at 6/1/2016 7:11:29 PM:

It seems quite a conventional humanoid robot, eg actuators in series, heavy flat feet, ZPM walking gait etc. I can't help but think that the robots are exploring the 'local minimum' design wise, which makes it very hard to create more realistic humanoids. We need to look back at humans and take inspiration from the parallel nature of muscles and features such as bi-articulated muscles. Use passive dynamics more and learned movement patterns rather than inverse kinematics.

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