Introducing Ghost Robotics and Minitaur

GRASP’s flying robots are always coming up with new tricks, but their terrestrial cousins can be just as impressive. Fresh sets of legs and new ways of controlling them have led to robots ready to conquer any terrain and leap off the ground with some tricks of their own.

RHex, one of Kod*Lab’s legged robots, showing off its moves.

The Kod*Lab, working under Daniel Koditschek, the Alfred Fitler Moore Professor and director of PERCH, develops new ways for ground-based robots to interact with the world. Wheels and treads are simple and stable, but don’t fare well against even the most basic of obstacles, such as stairs.

Now, Kod*Lab members Avik De and Gavin Kenneally, have launched their own spin-off company based on some of these advances: Ghost Robotics.

Graduate students in ESE and MEAM respectively, De and Kenneally have put years of work into the actuators that enable Ghost’s flagship robot — Minitaur — to move in such a fluid way. The name Ghost stems from the high “transparency” those actuators have. They aren’t optically invisible, but rather provide the robot a more direct sense of the terrain its legs are pushing against.

The direct-drive system that moves Minitaur’s legs allow them to “feel” the ground, unlike geared systems, which remain rigid. Beyond contributing to the robot’s mobility, that flexibility is also a boon in dealing with shocks and impacts from the unpredictable terrain it’s designed to traverse.

Ghost envisions applications in exploring hazardous or remote environments where traditionally wheeled, treaded or legged robots would be stymied.