Perhaps in the factory of the future man will have a new best friend in ANYmal, an autonomous robot dog designed by ANYbotics. In the company’s mission statement ANYmal is described as being an autonomous, four-legged robot capable of solving industrial inspection and maintenance tasks in challenging industrial environments.
ANYbotics claim that ANYmal’s legs provide unparalleled mobility when moving up and down stairs, climbing over obstacles, steps, and gaps, and crawling into tight spaces. The company also states that the robot is capable of delivering reliable performances in harsh indoor and outdoor environments, irrespective of weather conditions.
ANYmal has been designed to autonomously navigate complex multi-story environments with the robot, having been guided once through the environment, remembering every detail to find the quickest route to perform its mission. An important feature of the robot are the built-in depth sensors that perceive obstacles around the robot for smooth navigation and which have been designed to enable ANYmal to localize at centimeter-accuracy in both confined spaces and large open environments.
ANYbotics proudly boasts that ANYmal’s inspection payload provides visual, thermal, and acoustic insights for condition monitoring of equipment and infrastructure. This is achieved using the pan-tilt unit to scan the environment around the robot and accurately position the built-in sensors for inspections of points of interest. In addition, AI-based inspection algorithms analyze the sensory data to interpret values, classify results, and detect anomalies.
ANYbotics has also revealed that ANYmal carries built-in computation, thereby eliminating the need for continuous network communication. While, where available, ANYmal can also connect through WiFi and optionally 4G/LTE. Although the robot is fully autonomous and capable of operating for ninety minutes on a full battery, operators can take over control and operate ANYmal manually with a view from its front and back cameras. After finishing its mission, ANYmal connects itself to a docking station for recharging, with a recharge time of 3 hours for a full battery charge or 100 minutes for a quick 70% charge.
The outstanding potential of ANYmal in difficult conditions such as high temperatures or difficult terrain was highlighted when the robot won the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)- funded Subterranean “SubT” robotics challenge. The SubT challenge is, as the name suggests, a robotics challenge which has been established to revolutionize the operational use of robots in underground terrain. The finals saw 8 leading robotics teams compete in what was described as the world’s hardest robotics course in Louisville, Kentucky.
The winning team came from team CERBERUS and used four ANYmal robots to successfully complete the challenge. CERBERUS stands for CollaborativE walking & flying RoBots for autonomous ExploRation in Underground Settings and represents an international consortium involving the University of Nevada Reno (prime contract), ETH Zurich, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, University of California Berkeley, University of Oxford, Flyability, and Sierra Nevada Corporation.
In the DARPA SubT Challenge, a team of robots was asked to autonomously explore diverse subterranean environments such as underground mines and tunnels, metropolitan subsurface infrastructure, and natural cave networks. The goal was to find various objects (“artifacts”) that were previously placed by the organizer with the robots having no prior knowledge about the environment. They must find and report the location of the found artifacts such as backpacks, cell phones, or survivors with high accuracy over hundreds of meters of underground area. After 3 years of preparation, with qualification rounds in a Tunnel and Urban Circuit, some of the best robotics teams around the world competed with their teams of robots in the Final Event. For this final competition, DARPA designed an environment involving branches representing all three challenges of the “Tunnel Circuit”, the “Urban Circuit”, and the “Cave Circuit”.
During the final mission, all four ANYmals successfully, and to a large extent autonomously, operated for almost one hour in the tunnels, caves, and urban underground areas.
“Legged robots bring together a unique set of advantages. In comparison to tracked or wheeled UGVs, they exhibit significantly better mobility. They are able to overcome rough terrain, stairs, and steps. They can move omnidirectionally, which is extremely helpful to navigate in narrow passages.” says Prof. Dr. Marco Hutter, leader of the Cerberus team. “ In case they fall, they can get up and continue operating by themselves. In contrast to UAVs, legged robots have significantly higher endurance. They can carry heavier sensory payloads for navigation and artifact inspection. Due to these advantages, the top six teams were all using legged robots. This shows the impressive advances that have happened in this field over the last years.”