Bipedal robots are a huge hassle. They’re expensive, complicated, fragile, and they spend most of their time almost but not quite falling over. That said, bipeds are worth it because if you want a robot to go everywhere humans go, the conventional wisdom is that the best way to do so is to make robots that can walk on two legs like most humans do. And the most frequent, most annoying two-legged thing that humans do to get places? Going up and down stairs.
Stairs have been a challenge for robots of all kinds (bipeds, quadrupeds, tracked robots, you name it) since, well, forever. And usually, when we see bipeds going up or down stairs nowadays, it involves a lot of sensing, a lot of computation, and then a fairly brittle attempt that all too often ends in tears for whoever has to put that poor biped back together again.
You’d think that the solution to bipedal stair traversal would just involve better sensing and more computation to model the stairs and carefully plan footsteps. But an approach featured in upcoming Robotics Science and Systems conference paper from Oregon State University and Agility Robotics does away will all of that out and instead just throws a Cassie biped at random outdoor stairs with absolutely no sensing at all. And it works spectacularly well.