How many amazing robots can one team create? Dennis Hong and his crew at Virginia Tech are trying to find out. Their Robotics & Mechanics Laboratory (RoMeLa) continually produces ground breaking robots with strange inspirations and often incredible results. Dennis Hong's recent speech at TEDxNASA focused on just eight of the awesome robots RoMeLa has produced. These bots range from chemically powered snakes to walking tripods to fully autonomous humanoids! They're all very cool and they're all on display in the video below. Make sure to stick around towards the end to hear Hong explain the five secrets to his lab's success.
RoMeLa is a big reason why Virginia Tech is a heavy hitter in the research engineering world. Hong and his team, along with associated labs at VT, compete at the DARPA Urban Challenge, MAGIC, RoboCup, as well as their own Blind Driver Challenge. Part of what makes their approach to robotics so interesting is that it often attempts projects that seem off the beaten path. The Whole Skin Locomotion robots (6:25 in the video) turns the robot into a tread, and they even have a prototype chemically-powered version (6:41). The IMPASS robot uses dynamic spoke length to give a new take on the wheel (2:51). Their robotic hand (RAPHaEL at 7:08) uses air pressure, which we've seen before, but it only costs around $200 to make! Even the ideas we see often such as the humanoid DARwIn (8:37), the tripod STriDER (0:26), CLIMBeR (4:43), and snake-like HyDRAS (7:47) are impressive in their field. Watch and see:
I'm even somewhat impressed with Hong's description of why his lab is a success. True, almost anyone could have come up with his five points: inspiration, open discussion, education, hard work, and fun. Still, not everyone would have bothered to spend a third of their lecture time highlighting those points. It speaks to Hong's unstated but overarching sixth tenant - passion. Despite the non plussed looks in the audience (the camera operator needs to be shot) Hong's a very inspiring speaker, and you can tell by the creativity and success of his team that his passion is shared at RoMeLa.
Rest assured that as Virginia Tech continues its pursuit in building the next generation of awesome robots we'll keep you posted. I'm definitely interested to see if RAPHaEL could provide a low cost competitor to the other high-tech prosthetic arms we've seen recently. I wonder when they'll release more clips on the chemically powered snake-bot. Ooh, and I can't wait to see the tripod walker actually live up to its concept videos....Yeah, who am I kidding, I'll be watching them all.