The world of science fiction is not far off into the future, and heading the field is CHARLI (Cognitive Humanoid Autonomous Robot with Learning Intelligence) L and CHARLI 2, the first human-sized robots to walk this earth with help of liner actuators.
Between 2009-2010 VT’s Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory designed CHARLI L (for lightweight’), the precursor to CHARLI 2. This robot is one of the latest constructions in a long line of ‘humanoid’ robots dating all the way back to 1986 designed to push humanity forward to an age in which robots are an integral part of our everyday lives.
Virginia Tech has since developed the next level of humanoid robot, named CHARLI 2. This design requires the use of 32 actuators for the robot to function. The greatest challenge that exists for robotics researchers is how to enable it to assess its surroundings and make a decision out of the possibilities. This entails the robot communicating with itself effectively between its 32 actuators, the sensors and its processor. It uses a software program designed to give its actuators the instructions on how much and how fast to extend or contract to create any desired motion. Any motion the robot performs, from a hand movement to a waist bend, is accompanied with the help of a linear actuator. Its bipedal feats, an evolutionary trait only exhibited by humans, would not be possible without the use of linear actuators to adjust the thighs, calves, knees and feet.
The design of CHARLI is inspired by human form and the actuators serve as human muscles. They contract and extend, not unlike a human’s 640 muscles, so that CHARLI 2 can interact with the world around it.
The military is funding the continued research by VT to create CHARLI robots that are useful in firefighting. Researchers hope that the future for CHARLI is bright, having it aid in elderly care or domestic chores. CHARLI is already able to pick itself up if it falls, hold delicate objects, walks and even maintains balance if given a good shove.
This award-winning robot is a game changer. This is the first life-sized humanoid robot that has such versatile qualities. As time moves forward, those who are continuing to develop CHARLI hope to one day see him folding laundry, greeting guests, answering phones, fetching wayward soccer balls and any other task that the average person would prefer to have a robot do.