Photos of a flying winged robot and a four-legged robot.

Legged and flying underactuated robots from the MIT Robot Locomotion Group, as explored in the OCW course 6.832 Underactuated Robotics. (Images courtesy of Jason Dorfman.)

Robots are a big deal at MIT. Catch a glimpse of the latest in this fast-moving field, from this MIT Industrial Liaison Program profile of one of MIT’s most prolific robotic researchers, Prof. Russ Tedrake.

Robots on the Move
Russ Tedrake pushes limits in robotic locomotion on the ground and in the air.
By Eric Brown

CSAIL’s Robot Locomotion Group (RLG) is one of over 30 robotics labs at MIT, many of which have popped up over the last decade. “In the last few years, robots have gotten awesome,” says Russ Tedrake, a CSAIL professor and the director of the Center for Robotics and the RLG. “There’s been a great increase in sensor and computer technology, and our algorithms have become much more advanced.”

The RLG is known for developing the software that runs on the humanoid, bipedal Atlas robot built by Boston Dynamics. In December 2013, MIT’s Atlas team won a qualifying fourth place in a DARPA Robotics Challenge featuring a disaster response scenario.

Now Tedrake and his team are preparing for the next DARPA Challenge in June 2015 with updated software that gives Atlas more autonomy. The software will run on an updated Atlas robot that is untethered, running solely on batteries.

“Robots like Atlas can take the place of a human in disaster situations to do difficult, complex, and dangerous tasks,” says Tedrake.

Tedrake seems just as excited about his lab’s work in developing semi-autonomous navigation software for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Tedrake has demonstrated UAVs that can fly at speed through a forest, “Return of the Jedi” style, without smashing into trees. Other projects include UAVs “that can fly like a bird and land on a perch,” says Tedrake…

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As this article describes, one of Prof. Tedrake’s core research interests is “underactuated” robotics: a less-is-more approach that aims for lower cost and better performing robots that operate at the edge (and beyond the edge) of complete control. Learn more with his OCW course 6.832 Underactuated Robots, complete with video lectures; and an archived version of the MITx on edX MOOC 6.832x Underactuated Robotics from Fall 2014.