Student Builds Spider Robot From Spare Parts (w/ Video)

Feb 09, 2010 By Otto Ross, AP

Picture a spider-like robot that teaches itself to walk, can adapt when damaged and watches its maker as he moves around the room. That might sound terrifying.

Add into the mix and you have all the makings of a science-fiction horror film.

Luckily, the UA senior and creator of the hexapod, Matt Bunting, said he plans to teach the only basic emotions.

"I've definitely thought about adding (artificial emotion), but the emotions would be very simplistic -- happy, sad, bored -- just very simple emotions. You can only do so much," he said.

Needless to say, Bunting's project for his spring 2009 cognitive-robotics class is drawing a lot of attention from the robotics world. Major companies have offered free equipment and exposure in exchange for his skills.

Bunting's passion for technology developed early.

When he was 12, he built a Lego car with an attached Web cam that he used to chase his cat around the house.

In high school, his endeavors became more complex -- like adapting a golf cart to be radio-controlled and installing custom alarm systems in his Jeep.

"I've always enjoyed robotics," he said. "It's really been an interest of mine ever since I can remember."

His most ambitious project came after University of Arizona professor Anthony Lewis asked his class to build a robot using class lessons. Bunting's resulting hexapod was a "Frankenstein" of spare parts he had collected from previous endeavors.

It was the most impressive device Lewis can recall a student ever turning in.

"The robot was surprisingly complex and sophisticated for a project," he said. "It was pretty amazing."

After giving his student a grade of A, Lewis offered him a job in his lab. There, Bunting refined his design and posted a video of the upgraded robot on YouTube.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

That's how Stewart Christie, a product-marketing engineer at Intel, noticed Bunting's creation.

"It's difficult for us to find where our products end up -- by definition they are embedded in something," Christie said. "Some things are more exciting than others -- having a robot that walks around is really quite something."

It was Bunting's use of Intel's Atom Processor as the hexapod's driving force that caught Christie's eye. He offered Bunting top-of-the-line hardware to build two more hexapods, one of which Intel would use to tour the county showing off potential applications of its devices. Bunting would be free to keep the other for further research.

The mechanical spider also grabbed the attention of a Gilbert robotics business called Crust Crawler. The business sells kits that allow customers to assemble, program and operate robots of their own. After seeing Bunting's robot, owner Alex Dirks contacted Bunting about creating operation codes for the firm's hexapod kit in exchange for free equipment and exposure.

"It's hard to find people like Matt who know their stuff and can really deliver on software to make a really functional, lifelike walking gait for a hexapod," Dirks said. "We've been in this business for almost 10 years now, and he is only the second person in nine years that puts his money where his mouth is and can actually do it."

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Bunting's hexapod is its ability to "teach" itself to walk by tying vision with legged locomotion. Each time the hexapod is activated, it begins with no prior memory of how to move forward.

As a result, the device begins by experimenting with different positions and motions. If a particular motion moves the hexapod in a forward direction, it is reinforced.

The hexapod judges motion using a simple webcam. As the robot transitions from one position to the next, it takes an image in each stance. It then compares specific features within the images to determine its trajectory.

The experimental quality of the robot also allows it to adapt if it's damaged. If the robot loses a leg, it can re-evaluate its balance and alter its method of motion accordingly. The resilience and experimentation make the design ideal for exploring difficult landscapes such as collapsed buildings or even space exploration, Bunting's professor said.

"It's a nice, stable platform," Lewis said. "It's not going to fall over -- it will remain balanced easily. It's good for going over very rough terrain."

Bunting was recently accepted to the UA's graduate school and also has applied to Carnegie Mellon University.

"Other people have to go through extensive additional years of training before they start building something, but he has a natural talent," Lewis said. "I think he's going to end up being a really outstanding robot designer. I think he's going to have a great future."

Explore further: Firmer footing for robots with smart walking sticks

4.7 /5 (17 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Korea to sell programmable robot

Aug 21, 2006

South Korean scientists say they plan to begin marketing an advanced robot that can be programmed by personal computers.

Researcher to create robotic locomotion that mimics amoeba

Mar 19, 2007

Creating a robotic locomotion mechanism based on the motion of single-cell organisms is the goal of Virginia Tech College of Engineering researcher Dennis Hong, who has received a National Science Foundation Faculty Early ...

Robots climb up the wall (w/ Video)

Jan 19, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- A robotics scientist from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheeba, Israel, has developed four different kinds of robots that climb up walls.

iRobot Unveils Morphing Blob Robot (w/ Video)

Oct 15, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- iRobot's latest robot is unique on many levels. The doughy blob moves by inflating and deflating - a new technique its developers call "jamming." As the researchers explain in the video below, ...

Recommended for you

Firmer footing for robots with smart walking sticks

14 hours ago

Anyone who has ever watched a humanoid robot move around in the real world—an "unstructured environment," in research parlance—knows how hard it is for a machine to plan complex movements, balance on ...

Knightscope K5 on security patrol roams campus

Nov 24, 2014

A Mountain View, California-based company called Knightscope designs and builds 5-feet, 300-pound security guards called K5, but anyone scanning last week's headlines has already heard about them, with the ...

Robots take over inspection of ballast tanks on ships

Nov 24, 2014

A new robot for inspecting ballast water tanks on board ships is being developed by a Dutch-German partnership including the University of Twente. The robot is able to move independently along rails built ...

User comments : 5

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Mesafina
not rated yet Feb 09, 2010
Wonderful!
Ant
not rated yet Feb 09, 2010
Yes I agree: very impressive
Rynox77
not rated yet Feb 09, 2010
Send it to mars, maybe it won't get stuck.
newsreader
not rated yet Feb 10, 2010
Amazing, teach it how to repair itself and science fiction will have turned into science fact.
eurekalogic
not rated yet Feb 10, 2010
a few timing and angle of attack changes and it is better than any 4x4.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.