A New Version of Hydraulic Quadruped Robot Proved Capable of Pulling Airplane Weighing 3300 kg

At the 2019 International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) conducted in Montreal (Canada), scientists at Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT) presented the latest results relating to the new model of the hydraulic quadruped robot HyQ, HyQReal. They finished the design, assembly, and testing of HyQReal, which has shown that it can pull an airplane weighing 3300 kg for more than 10 m. The HyQReal robot has been built in order to assist humans in emergency situations.

HyQReal has been tested in Genova Airport, in Genoa (Italy), with the support of Piaggio Aerospace. HyQReal was able to pull a small passenger airplane (Piaggio P180 Avanti), 3300 kg weight, 14.4 m long, with a wingspan of 14 m. (CREDIT: IIT-Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia)

HyQReal measures 1.33 m long, 90 cm tall, and 130 kg in weight taking into account hydraulics and batteries onboard. The robot is kept safe by an aluminum roll cage and a skin built using glass fiber, Kevlar, and plastic. The robot has customized feet made from special rubber to provide high traction on the ground. The robot is fitted with a 48 Volt battery which powers four electric motors attached to four hydraulic pumps. The robot consists of two computers on board: one exclusively for vision and the other for its control.

The new features were put to the test at Genova Airport, in Genoa (Italy), with the support of Piaggio Aerospace. The power of HyQReal was showcased when it pulled a small passenger airplane (Piaggio P180 Avanti) weighing 3300 kg, and measuring 14.4 m in length with a wingspan of 14 m.

The new robot is the newest version of the HyQ robot series - hydraulically powered quadruped robots built by scientists at the IIT since 2007. The project’s long-term goal is to develop the algorithms, hardware, and software for strong quadruped vehicles for coarse terrain that can be modified to a range of applications, such as disaster response, decommissioning, agriculture, and inspection. Compared to the earlier styles, HyQReal is fully power-autonomous with onboard hydraulics, wireless communication, and batteries. Moreover, the robot features a higher reliability, ruggedness, and energy efficiency.

Pulling a plane allowed us to demonstrate the robot's strength, power-autonomy, and the optimized design. We wanted to achieve something that has never been done before, and we succeeded last week.

Claudio Semini, Project Leader, Dynamic Legged Systems Lab, IIT

The new robot is the major output of the first years of joint lab activities between IIT and Moog, which have been launched in September 2016, with the aim to build the next generation of hydraulic legged robots. The joint lab brings together IIT's expertise in the design of the software and hardware of legged robots, with Moog's know-how in small, high-performance actuation solutions.

Moog Inc. is an international designer, manufacturer, and integrator of precision control components and systems. Moog has created most of the HyQReal’s hydraulic actuation system, including smart manifolds, hydraulic pump units, fluid rotary unions, and Integrated Servo Actuators (ISA). Moog has specially developed parts for HyQReal that will find an application in the mobile robot sector where high performance and energy efficiency are paramount.

IIT has guided the general development of the robot's software and hardware. In terms of hardware, IIT concentrated on the design of the legs, torso, electronics, fall protections, hydraulic hoses, and sensing. Furthermore, it organized the integration of the actuation subsystems built by Moog. With regards to software, IIT adapted its locomotion control framework that it has put together over the last ten years. "Thanks to IIT and Moog's complementary expertise, we managed to enhance our control software with increased safety and modularity," said Victor Barasuol, the IIT researcher who is in charge of HyQReal's control.

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