Podcast: Mighty Morphing All Terrain Robots Made By Nature

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Podcast: Mighty Morphing All Terrain Robots Made By Nature

In this episode, we discuss the fascinating world of bioinspired robotics. Discover how researchers have created versatile robots inspired by nature's flight, rolling, and walking abilities.

In this episode, we discuss the fascinating world of bioinspired robotics. Discover how researchers have created versatile robots inspired by nature's flight, rolling, and walking abilities. From advanced AI integration to cutting-edge engineering, these multimodal robots represent the future of robotics. Join us as we explore the innovative design, biomimicry, and the transformative impact of robotics advancements on various terrains and learn how nature's efficiency drives the evolution of robotic locomotion and opens up new possibilities for exploration and AI-driven robotics.

This podcast is sponsored by Mouser Electronics.      

(5:00) - New Bioinspired Robot Flies, Rolls, Walks, and More

This episode was brought to you by Mouser, our favorite place to get electronics parts for any project, whether it be a hobby at home or a prototype for work. Click HERE to check out the article on Team HUGE and their novel robotics design that’s giving them an edge in the BattleBots competition.


What's going on folks? Welcome back to the NextByte Podcast and let me ask you a question, were you ever watching the transformers in like 2007 2009 and you thought to yourself man those Autobots and Decepticons, they look so cool. When can I get some in real life? Well, we might have the answer for you today because we want you to meet M4, the shape-shifting robot from Caltech and NASA JPL.

I'm Daniel, and I'm Farbod. And this is the NextByte Podcast. Every week, we explore interesting and impactful tech and engineering content from Wevolver.com and deliver it to you in bite sized episodes that are easy to understand, regardless of your background. 

Farbod: All right folks as you heard we are gonna talk about adaptive robotics and before we get into today's article, I want to talk about Mouser Electronics. So, you guys have heard us talk about Mouser so many times on this podcast they're one of the world's biggest electronic distributors and we've always mentioned how by being one of the world's biggest electronic distributors. They have like insight into industry and academia and they bring everyone together, they share articles and technical resources that we like to share that are great primers and things like that but they also give how to for hackers that like to put stuff together. Well, this technical resource that we're gonna talk about today is one of the hackers in the community that was actually sponsored by Mouser. We're gonna be talking about Jonathan Schultz, who's the founder and captain of Team HUGE of the battle bots competition.

Daniel: I love battle bots, dude.

Farbod: Dude, it's sick, if you're into like engineering, I think that's like It's our version of F1, technically F1 is our F1 but you know.

Daniel: I was gonna say F1 is pretty F1 It's like our version of WWE.

Farbod: Yes, it's our version of WWE, I like that. It's our Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather and that's UFC, but.

Daniel: That's UFC buddy, but it's okay.

Farbod: You know what I mean, I'm showing my true colors of not knowing sports but that's besides the point. What's cool about this is that in this technical resource? Jonathan is talking about you know how he got into robotics at first, it was just like something in college a hobby. He got into it with his college buddies and his girlfriend, they started building this robot the name of their team is HUGE, the robots name is HUGE and it has this like very interesting design. It's basically two big wheels with the core components in the middle and the robot itself is like what a foot or two off the ground. And I don't know if you've ever played this video game but there was a video game on the PlayStation one called twisted metal, where you would you know drive around cars and shoot each other up and this guy was strapped between two truck wheels and he was like the best character ever and that's what their robot reminds me of like the wildest design you could think of just two big wheels roaming around destroying other robots. What I loved about this technical resource is not only the fact that we see Jonathan talking about the different iterations of HUGE and like where the team is now and how they're competing in the Olympics of you know these robotic death matches, which is battle bot. But also, He spoke a little bit about the design. He was like look we saw what most people were doing and that was you know, you have your core electronics that you want easy access to and you hit it all behind this cover that was a very easy to remove because you know you might need to make adjustments before your robot goes in or if it's hurt you take it out, you're doing whatever. And because they want easy access the top cover is usually not super secure or made out of great materials. So, he was like that's our competitive advantage, that's how we're gonna design our robot to just beat the heck out of other ones. I'm not gonna talk more about it because I want you guys to go and see this entire interview that they did with Jonathan, I think it's super interesting. They have a ton of pictures of the robot and the design that they came up with actually bleeds very nicely into today's article.

Daniel: I was gonna say, we're gonna link that article in the show notes, right? You should go check it out, but I want to highlight right, Team HUGE partnership with Mouser. They say this helped them pave their way into the battle bots competition, awesome! Like epitome of what Mouser is for makers, right? Like, they helped pave the way for makers. That's cool, but the other part there is we always talk about how well-connected Mouser is with the industry with technology Mouser is also really connected with the garage hackers. Yeah, and this is an awesome example of that and I don't know about you but I would put myself in the garage hacker category. So, I've got like a special affinity for this type of article and like I think everyone should check it out.

Farbod: I'm with you man. I'm with you and I think that that just goes to show like, you know this is why we love Mouser, just the type of connections that they have blends so nicely with all the topics that we love to talk about. But that's a great again, it's a great segue to today's article because we're gonna talk about the new bioinspired robot from Caltech that is supposed to fly, roll, walk and more. It basically just is every version of traversing through an environment this thing should be capable of it. Again, which is why I think Jonathan's robot is goes hand-in-hand with this article, but talking about who's involved in this work It's a collaboration between Caltech and JPL and If you remember a couple episodes we've done in the past with Caltech, they actually work with JPL a lot because Caltech has a I think a combined set of efforts with JPL, there those two institutions are very close with one another. So, this research makes a ton of sense for them because when you think about traversing through an environment that's mostly unknown, having a robot that can adapt to its environment through different methods of locomotion actually makes a lot of sense, right? Instead of hardcoding it to only drive or only walk, now you're able to have a system that can determine the most efficient most optimal path forward based on what is in front of it.

Daniel: Well and for people who don't know what JPL is, right? That's NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. So, NASA right doing everything they are to put stuff into space to explore our solar system and the rest of the universe. They've had challenges so far with traditional robots, sending them into a diverse or an unpredictable environment because you're not sure what the requirements are, you're not sure does it have to roll? Does it have to walk? Does it have to crawl? Does it have to stand does it have to fly? Can it even fly is the atmosphere thick enough for that, right? So, we've had challenges developing robots to be the pioneers because we first have to send a couple probes to collect a ton of information, collect a bunch of pictures, do a bunch of tests then we have an understanding of what the basic requirements are and then we can build a purpose-built robot to go do that and oftentimes we have to iterate a ton, you know. The first rover dies, the next one's not that great and by the time we get the third or fourth or fifth rover onto that planet, we do a pretty good job of exploring. I think now what this team from like you said, it's the cast center at Caltech Center for Autonomous Systems and Technologies and I think the autonomous part is something interesting we should definitely hit on. Absolutely, as a part of talking about this article. But they're trying to make this like most multi-purpose or multimodal transportation robot that's ever been built. They say it's got eight different modes of transportation, I could only see six of them listed in the article but those six are rolling on all four wheels, turning its wheels into rotors to fly, standing on the two rear wheels like a meerkat to peer over obstacles, walking by using its wheels like feet, fifth one’s, using two rotors to help it roll up steep slopes on two wheels, and then the last one's tumbling and rolling. I don't know what the last two are there but like even if you had you know, you had me at the first six, if you told me, it had six modes of transportation, I would have been excited about it. But the idea here is going on to a new planet, you can send something like this, that's agile enough, that's you know adaptive enough to be the pioneer or to be maybe the second thing that goes on to the planet Instead of the 10th or 11th or 12th thing. You're able to explore a lot more you're able to understand a lot more in complex terrain such as other planets and then there's also the added benefit of like us being able to use it here on earth as well.

Farbod: Absolutely, and you know in this podcast we have actually talked about different modes of transportation for autonomous systems on other planets specifically the Martian Rover and the drone it had on board that was trying to be like the first of its kind. So, we've talked about the benefits the challenges that come with it and that's again kind of what you summarized earlier, but you're absolutely right. Like this system makes so much sense if we are to actually, you know take our extraterrestrial investigations and adventures even further. Now, I want to quickly talk about the name of this system that these folks have come up with because I think it's dope. Multi-Modal Mobility Morphobot dubbed the M4, as a fan of BMW, M4 perfect, perfect name.

Daniel: We're a big fan of good naming conventions good acronyms. I would put this one up there and like 8.

Farbod: I'll give it an 8.

Daniel: Yeah, I was gonna say like 8.2 out of ten.

Farbod: Okay, okay more generous today. I respect that. But this thing has, I guess if you were to break down the system, it really shines because of his because of the appendages it has I'm not gonna call them wheels, I'm not gonna call them rotors, we're gonna call them appendages because it can walk and other stuff. But these things can be reconfigured to like you said walk, rollover, fly or drive and the control system in addition to the actual hardware that's let you know if you do that, that's fascinating but you talked about it's important to mention the AI system that's in play here. The AI algorithm that's on board this system that allows it to perceive what's in front of it and then choose the best traversing option that's available to it to you know, move through it. That's the real juicy bit of the secret sauce if you ask me.

Daniel: Yeah, I agree man, right. And I want to go back to something you just said which is you don't want to call them wheels or thrusters or legs because you want to call them appendages, I was gonna go the opposite way and say you can call them wheels, and you can call them legs, and you can call them thrusters. All of those are correct, right? Each one of the four appendages has the ability to roll like wheels, has the ability to walk like legs, and has the ability to fly like thrusters. So, if you combine all those that's how we're getting to these six or eight different modes of transportation. But what I found it really compelling is a part of that is that each of those are drawn as an inspiration from nature. So, they talk about how they looked at things like birds to understand the flight patterns, they looked at things like sea lions to understand how they walk with like these big fat appendages that don't have the ability to like with many joints in them, and they also mimicked I mentioned it earlier like how a meerkat peers over obstacles So, I'm sure there are other right that only covers three or so of their six different movements but there's a lot that they studied from nature here. So, in addition to this AI system that can autonomously choose the most effective locomotion mode. I think that's really really interesting I would say the second part of the secret sauce here is the fact that they studied nature as an ability to try and understand “What's the most efficient way we can use these appendages?”, as opposed to tree try and reinvent the wheel here. And instead of trying to reinvent modes of locomotion they looked into nature and understood, How are birds doing this with the you know, the least amount of body parts possible? How are sea lions, you know making their way through the world with the least amount of complexity in their appendage as possible. Drawing inspiration from nature and then including that as part of the mechanical design in addition to using this really interesting, you know artificial intelligence, which you can argue is Bio-inspired engineering of thinking of thought right processing. So, they're bio-inspired in the brain and then they're bio-inspired in the body of this robot and that's how we get this awesome M4 robot that can travel using eight different modes of transportation.

Farbod: Yeah, I mean the article name starts with bio-inspired so you're absolutely right, the inspiration from nature's like such a critical component of it. And I'm gonna go back quickly to the bird that you mentioned, I forgot the name of the species but they were talking about how this bird like they noticed it as it tries to jump up on steps, it doesn't just use its legs, it gives itself a little push with the wings so it's making use of its legs and the wings to overcome that obstacle instead of just trying to fly all the way up or walk all the way up.

Daniel: I think it's the Chukar Partridge.

Farbod: That's the one!

Daniel: I agree, right? It's super interesting. That's where they got one of those additional modes of transportation where it's not only jumping with its legs, it's also using its wings to fly. Yeah. Yeah, it's super interesting. And then also if you look up a chukar bird, it's kind of pretty. I Just googled it. You get to do research. It's got like zebra stripes on the wings got an orange face. Looks pretty cool. Looks like a hawk met a Oreo met a zebra and turned into a bird.

Farbod: You get to do research with some incredible views, who doesn't love that? Yeah, But what I was gonna say, I think like within our first three episodes of this podcast I believe we did another, we did another set of coverage on Caltech and their bio-inspired robotics and it was specifically about the flight of a fly and they use that to change the algorithm of how a drone maneuvers and it seems like this has been a key interest for these folks to try to bring how nature operates into our robotic systems. And you know, again, we've talked about research articles that go over this but then you look at the main robotics laboratory that everyone from like Twitter to academia is in love with which is Boston Dynamics, we're literally trying to make them operate like human beings or like animals with the cheetah dog, right? Yeah, and I don't know it's just fascinating to me that like at the peak of engineering, we're still going to Mother Nature to be inspired and to be schooled in what the proper technique is.

Daniel: No, I'm with you and I will make a minor correction there, you had a good guess on which episode one, you know first three it was it's, it's a first episode, very first episode of the NextByte. I think it was a team from Penn State studying flight from flies. That being said that was a super interesting article and was also a lot of episodes ago, so if you're willing to go all the way back and listen to that, I think you'll enjoy. Not only the subject matter there, but also hopefully seeing how far we've come over the last two and a half years of doing this podcast if you go back and listen to episode one.

Farbod: The fact that my recollection was correct halfway for something that happened a hundred and thirty-two weeks ago. That's I'll take it.

Daniel: I know dude, your memory nail it right there.

Farbod: But in terms of, you know, that this technology is also obviously super cool but in terms of the so what we've kind of covered the main one which is you know, the collaborations with NASA, NASA's doing space exploration that would be super cool. But there's one that I specifically wanted to call out and that's, like this critical flaw that we see with last my last mile delivery with drones, right? Like, people hate the noise, there's all this regulation and there's some solutions about like what if we have one drone that's flying super high so no one can hear the noise and then we lower another drone that's actually like making the delivery. There's some folks that even we know personally that are working on designs for different rotors that can be quieter like all these things all these efforts to make it possible. But one thing that makes a ton of sense to me is getting drones close enough to where they're supposed to delivery via flying and then once they get close enough to a neighborhood they land and just like you and I experience with Starship Robotics at Mason they roll their way to the delivery point and then you kind of eliminate the issue that you know people hear these things outside of their home and they're just flustered by all the noise.

Daniel: No, I agree dude, and that's something I didn't even think of when I was looking at this one of the things that I thought of outside of the entire, you know space exploration sending a robot as a pioneer on a new planet was using this, I think it's got great potential for emergency rescues, great. Say you've got something like a building that's partially collapsed, you're not able to like send your normal drone up there to go walk up the stairs because the stairs are collapsed but there still might be people or things you want to go check out at the top. You could fly this drone to the top and then once it gets there if there's any surfaces in tactic and walk around or can, you know drive around on its wheels, you know all these different modes of transportations I thought that was something that was really interesting here in terms of space or sorry Emergency Exploration, but I didn't think about the last mile delivery thing, man. I think that's really awesome and it kind of combines a lot of the best of what we're best of all the worlds that we've been Hearing about in the last mile delivery realm, which is like can we use a vehicle to drive part of the way? Can we use drones to go a part of the way? Can we take drones to deliver packages to vehicles and then use those vehicles to deliver the last part of the way? You, I think you hit the nail on the head here, which is like if we can have this bio-inspired robot that's capable of doing driving walking flying and more, you've got an all-in-one solution as long as it can carry the payload properly, right? where you can take a package and put it on there. It can fly from its distribution location out to the delivery area, drive up to the front door. So, it's not invading anyone's privacy or making a lot of noise, sounds like something super interesting man.

Farbod: That’s what I'm saying and Amazon can finally keep their promise of giving me my package in the next day, instead of promising it's gonna be the next day and then shows up two days later.

Daniel: Do you, I mean Amazon is impressive all on their own without this technology sometimes I order a package and get it the same day and I'm surprised that they can keep that promise, but maybe it's because they're keeping the promise to me that your packages keep coming late.

Farbod: Probably, probably, they just like you more than me.

Farbod: Alright, before we wrap up the episode, I want to quickly do a recap of what we just talked about. So, generally speaking when it comes to unexplored terrain, it's difficult to know what locomotion platform is gonna be best. Are you gonna fly? Are you gonna drive through it? Are you gonna walk through it? You don't know, right? There is a most optimal path there is a most efficient method but most systems especially our rovers that are exploring the Martian Landscape are it comes accustomed to juice to just do one of them. So, this team this collaboration between Caltech and JPL, they've come up with a system that is capable of driving, walking, flying and even more modes of locomotion. The best part, this thing comes with AI on board so that it can perceive what's in front of it and adapt to the best method of traversing through that obstacle or through that train. That's what's amazing about it, we are able to explore the unknown with the best possible tool that we can have, that's the magic. Now, not only is this great for space exploration, this could potentially mean that your Amazon deliveries can be finally be made with drones that can drive up a certain way, fly up a certain way and even walk up to your house and drop it off so that they're not disturbing you.

Daniel: Mic drop, I love it man.

Farbod: I did my best. Yeah, I think we're good to end the episode. Yeah.

Daniel: Yeah, I will just say if you made it around to the end of the episode, we appreciate you for listening. Lots of people have reached out asking how they can help what can you do to help the NextByte grow to reach more people. There are two things that I'm gonna ask from you, Number 1 is if you're already on your podcast app; Apple podcast, Spotify, wherever you're at if you could leave us a review. We'd love if you could leave us a review, leave your feedback. We hope we deserve five stars that would help us reach other people. The second thing that you can do if you've already done that is send this episode to a friend if you've enjoyed it. I think this is a pretty interesting topic to share with a friend this robot that has eight different modes of transportation. That's something that might be perfect to invite a new friend into the world of the NextByte and help continue to keep us growing. You know, and because of people like you that are helping share this with everyone else that's what allows us to continue to produce this podcast on a weekly basis.

Farbod: And don't forget friends don't let friends miss an episode of the NextByte podcast.

Daniel: They definitely don't.

Farbod: All right, everyone. Thank you so much for listening. And as always, we'll catch in the next one.

Daniel: Peace.


That's all for today The NextByte Podcast is produced by Wevolver, and to learn more about the topics with discussed today visit Wevolver.com.

If you enjoyed this episode, please review and subscribe, via Apple podcasts Spotify or one of your favorite platforms. I'm Farbod and I'm Daniel. Thank you for listening and we'll see you in the next episode.

As always, you can find these and other interesting & impactful engineering articles on Wevolver.com.

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The Next Byte: We're two engineers on a mission to simplify complex science & technology, making it easy to understand. In each episode of our show, we dive into world-changing tech (such as AI, robotics, 3D printing, IoT, & much more), all while keeping it entertaining & engaging along the way.


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