Getting a leg up on robotic design

I was tempted to buy a Roomba robovac last week, until my wife warned me of the pandemonium that would ensue when our schnauzers got a hold of it. So while I can’t entertain you with a cute video of my dogs attacking a robotic vacuum cleaner, how about the next best thing: a giant robotic leg powered by QNX.

This week, Carnegie Mellon’s student newspaper posted a story on Jonathan Hurst, a grad student who plans to develop a six-legged robot that can walk, run, and even climb stairs. Already, Hurst has designed an innovative leg that uses fiberglass springs to emulate natural running movements — a departure from the rotating gear motors and pneumatic actuators of traditional robots.

For his project, Hurst is using software from RHex, a QNX-based robot that is the “first documented autonomous legged machine to have exhibited general mobility... over general terrain.” RHex also serves as the basis for AQUA, a project dedicated to building amphibious robots that work underwater. Click here to see the RHex and AQUA robots in action.

If you search the web, you’ll find lots of other robotic projects based on QNX, including the famous Cog and Kismet robots from MIT. In most cases, these projects use QNX because of its realtime capabilities. However, the researchers at MIT needed to solve an additional problem: implementing efficient interprocess communications among Cog’s 32 processors. They found the solution in QNX transparent distributed processing (TDP), which allows an application to access remote software and hardware resources without special software coding. Recently, QNX published the source code for TDP on Foundry27.

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