If you ever find yourself running away from an evil robot army, one way to evade them is to climb the stairs. Robots that use rolling wheels as a form of locomotion are going to be stuck at the bottom of the staircase, with little more to do than to wait for you to walk back down.
Robots that can walk on legs also tend to have trouble with stairs. It takes a lot of calculations of depth and distance, a good sense of balance, and a reasonable amount of coordination for a human to successfully navigate their way up a staircase. Most adults don’t consciously think about all those little pieces of the puzzle, because they have mastered the skill of climbing a staircase long ago. The skill set required to climb stairs is an elusive one for most bipedal robots.
Researchers from the University of Freiburg’s Humanoid Robots Laboratory have created a robot that can not only climb a staircase, but also can successfully navigate its way up a spiral staircase. The robot is named Nao, and, fortunately for us, doesn’t appear to be the least bit evil. Personally, I think it is very cute. As a gamer, my first thought was that Nao resembles Megaman, (but is a different color).
The video of Nao in action was created by the Humanoid Robots Laboratory. Watch as Nao figures out how to get up onto the next step. I find it amusing that he raises his arms over his head, as a sign of victory, after he makes it all the way up the stairs.
How is Nao able to do this task that has perplexed many of the robots that were created before him? It makes use of the laser range scanner that is located at the top of its head. This gives Nao a global estimation of its current position. It also uses a 3D model of the staircase to match up the image it “sees” from the laser with the physical step that it is about to ascend. A lower camera, located on its “face”, is also used to help coordinate the data from the two sources. Our potential future robot overlords are adorable!