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IHMC Robotics Lab Opens Doors To Public

Institute for Human and Machine Cognition

The Institute for Human and Machine Cognition will open its Robotics Lab to the public as part of the fifth annual National Robotics Week, which runs from April 5th through 13th this year. Douglas Stephen is a research associate at IHMC.

"We participate in National Robotics Week by opening our doors to the public and really, especially kids,” Stephen said. “We target it at kids because a big part of the National Robotics Week message is to promote STEM outreach—with STEM being science, technology, engineering and math education. It’s a big part of trying to educate the public and to get kids interested in robotics and trying to show them what it’s all about, what the current state of affairs is in the field.”

One of the robots to be displayed is Atlas, a humanoid robot designed by Boston Dynamics, which was used in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Robotics Challenge. The IHMC Robotics Lab participated in the DRC trials last December and won second place.

Other robots on display will be micro air vehicles, commercial pelican drones, and the HexRunner. HexRunner is a robot that the team has been working with to break speed records for legged robots. It resembles the spokes of a wheel without the outer rim.

“With a wheel, you’re in constant contact with the ground, because you have the round part on the outside. The HexRunner is not in constant contact. It has—they look almost like legs, but they’re sort of the spokes of a wheel. As it rotates, they hit the ground and lift off. It runs that way,” Stephen said.

The X1 Mina Exoskeleton is a project that IHMC worked on in collaboration with the NASA Johnson Space Center. Stephen says much of the research has focused on enabling sufferers of spinal injuries that have lost the use of their legs to regain some mobility.

Credit Institute for Human and Machine Cognition
NASA-IHMC X1 Mina Exoskeleton

“It’s a powered exoskeleton, and we have researched what a good, generic human gait kind of looks like, and we pre-programmed in these trajectories all the leg joints can follow, and that lets it look like it’s a human gait,” Stephen said.

The test subject inside the exoskeleton uses crutches to help maintain balance. Another exoskeleton that IHMC has designed with NASA is called the Hopper, which operates as an exercise device.

“We’re using it to study ways in which you can use these wearable robotics to put forces on your body in a way that makes it harder for you to move, which doesn’t sound like it would be very useful on Earth. But in space, where you’re in microgravity and you have to worry about things like muscle and bone atrophy, they’re always looking for ways to make it easier for the astronauts to stay in shape and manage their health, without having to take huge amounts of time away from their work,” Stephen said.

The open house will take place from 4pm to 7pm on Thursday, April 10. The Robotics Lab is located on 201 E Wright St in downtown Pensacola.

Katya Ivanov, WUWF News