Watch a dog-like robot struggle to pull a much larger aircraft

23 May 2019

Still from ‘HyQReal robot release: Walking robot pulls a plane (extended version)’. Image: Dynamic Legged Systems lab/YouTube

To test its strength, Italian researchers tasked a four-legged robot to pull an aircraft many times its weight.

Boston Dynamics has shown its robots to be more than capable of traversing difficult terrain or, in many cases, being subjected to abuse by the company’s staff to prove their strength. Now, researchers at the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT) in Italy have pushed its own robot to the limit, asking it to pull a whole aircraft with brute strength.

The hydraulic, four-legged robot – HyQReal – measures 1.3 metres long, is 90cm tall and weighs 130kg. A complete redesign of a previous model, it is protected by an aluminium roll cage and a skin made of Kevlar, glass fibre and plastic, making it ideal for tough conditions.

Additionally, HyQReal has custom-made feet in special rubber to give itself considerable traction, controlled by two computers on board dedicated to vision and control. The latest test was performed at Genova Airport, where it was tasked with pulling a 3,300kg Piaggio P180 Avanti private jet.

Long-term goal

As you can see from the video, it seemed a tall order for the HyQReal robot to pull an object more than 25 times its own weight, but it successfully did so for a distance of 10 metres.

The long-term goal of the project is to create the hardware, software and algorithms for robust, four-legged vehicles for rough terrain. The robots could be tailored to a variety of applications, such as disaster response, agriculture, decommissioning and inspection.

Unlike previous versions, HyQReal requires no external power supply and has on-board hydraulics, batteries and wireless communication. Additionally, it has been toughened and made more energy-efficient.

“Pulling a plane allowed us to demonstrate the robot’s strength, power autonomy and the optimised design,” said Claudio Semini, project leader at IIT’s Dynamic Legged Systems lab.

The robot is part of a collaborative effort between the Italian university and Moog, an aerospace designer and manufacturer of complex engineering parts.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic