Open source

The Open Dynamic Robot Initiative’s 3D printed robot dog can now be remote-controlled

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The Open Dynamic Robot Initiative (ODRI) has developed an open-source 3D printed robot that can be controlled remotely over Wi-Fi.

The research project started off as an attempt to build a low-cost, brushless motor-based actuator module that could be used to develop various types of torque-controlled robots. Having now been in the works for around five years, the development platform can be combined with 3D printing, cheap PCBs, and off-the-shelf components to build custom legged robots at a fraction of the cost of Boston Dynamics’ Spot (which retails at just $74,500).

ODRI’s development module has already been used to build a 3D printed robotic dog called Solo and an AT-ST-inspired biped robot named Bolt.

What is the Open Dynamic Robot Initiative?

ODRI is a collaborative open-source project led by several robotics-related research institutions: the Motion Generation and Control Group, the Max-Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems, New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering, and the LAAS/CNRS.

The work ultimately aims to meet the needs of the robotics research community, where many institutions are seeking a flexible research platform that’s low-cost and lightweight. ODRI’s robot development module can largely be 3D printed and is completely upgradable and modifiable, offering an affordable route to advanced R&D for robotics teams on limited budgets.

According to ODRI, its robot platform can be used to research animal-based limb movement over surfaces such as gravel, soil, sand, and mud, and reinforcement learning for complex behaviors such as parkour. Some of this research would be far too risky to attempt on a high-cost platform. Additionally, it can also be used to research environment manipulation motions such as opening doors or pushing buttons, and integration with advanced communications technologies such as 5G wireless.

Integrating Wi-Fi into the mix

Although the platform has come a long way over the years, one of the latest innovations is the integration of Wi-Fi connectivity. The algorithmic closed-loop control of the device is actually hosted on a separate PC, rather than an onboard computer. All that can be found on the body of the robot are a few brushless DC motors driven by field-oriented control driver units, a wireless controller, and batteries.

For a project like this, it’s usually standard practice to calculate all of the positioning, torque, and speed locally with the use of leg unit sensors. However, calculating the motion planning locally requires considerable local processing power, which makes development more difficult as you’d have to fit a high-power PC into a space that high-power PCs don’t really fit in yet – especially if you intend to program the device to perform complex movements.

With minimal electronics and lightweight 3D printed parts, ODRI managed to get Solo, the robotic dog variant, down to a total mass of just 2.2kg with a standing hip height of approximately 24cm.

Solo 12, the latest version of the 3D printed robotic dog. Photo via ODRI.
Solo, the 3D printed robotic dog. Photo via ODRI.

Further details of the robot development module can be found in the paper titled ‘An Open Torque-Controlled Modular Robot Architecture for Legged Locomotion Research’. Additionally, the open-source files for the robot can be found on the project GitHub.

In a similar vein, XRobots’ James Bruton, a robotics engineer and 3D printing YouTuber, recently commenced work on V3 of his 3D printed robotic dog. Dubbed openDog, the open-source project has been running for a couple of years now and besides the motors, bearings, and a few other components, can be 3D printed entirely on a low-cost FDM system like the LulzBot TAZ Workhorse Bruton happens to use.

Elsewhere in the open-source community, 3D printing YouTuber Teaching Tech recently designed and 3D printed his own open-source version of a rare antique fractal vise. Dubbed ‘the coolest tool you didn’t know you needed’, the 100-year-old fractal vise is near impossible to purchase these days, and is capable of morphing to grip virtually any object.

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Featured image shows Solo, the 3D printed robotic dog. Photo via ODRI.