Muscle Robot
November 18, 2014 3:36 PM   Subscribe

The Ecce Robot is an attempt to create a robot that not only mimics human movement and form, but also musculature and body construction. There are more videos at the project's site.

This short 2011 WIRED profile has a bit more about the robot, and this FastCO article goes into a little further detail regarding the aims of the project,
“This way of building robots doesn’t just produce a robot that moves like a human, but it also produces a robot that is safe for humans to interact with, because the elasticity of the 'muscles’ and 'tendons’ makes it compliant and soft, unlike conventionally engineered robots,” Holland explains. “We believe that this factor alone means that future robots will be more like ECCERobot than the current generation of hard, stiff metallic robots.”
One of the researchers introduces the project for the European Future Technologies conference.

Via the Facebook group TECH AESTHETICS.
posted by codacorolla (23 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
(with totally insincere apologies to the people who've complained about what I'm about to do:)

I misread this repeatedly as "The Ecce Robot is attempting to create a robot that not only mimics human movement and form..." and I was like, uh-oh, I'm off to the survival bunker.
posted by neuromodulator at 3:41 PM on November 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


It bears an unnerving resemblance to Bill D. Cat from Bloom County.
posted by localroger at 3:46 PM on November 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I'm not going to worry until they start calling them "Boomers".
posted by happyroach at 3:52 PM on November 18, 2014


Is the name Ecce some kind of nerdy "no homo"?
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:54 PM on November 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


I see they're going for the geth look.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 4:17 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Are they using "compliant" to mean "pliable"?
posted by benito.strauss at 4:35 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


While I was watching that, I was thinking "this is cool, but they need to cover that thing up because all those wires and bones and elastics look pretty hinky and wrong." Then in the end bit they had made it put a shirt on, and I was like "nevermind, that doesn't help at all." It actually looked sort of... pathetic. Like it wanted to be a Real Boy, but could never cover up the fact that it was really a cyclopean abomination made out of sugru, bungee cords, and electric screwdrivers.

Still, I like it! I've always thought that the complexity of the human skeletomuscular system was really a rather elegant solution to the problem of building a body that was simultaneously strong, precise, and flexible. In terms of degrees of freedom and range of motion, animal bodies just blow away anything robotic I've ever seen or heard of--and we're also much stronger and much more precise in deploying our strength than any human-scale robot I know of.

I think it would be really hard to replicate that with the kinds of designs we've gotten used to seeing in robots, where an arm is a pair of linear actuators with a hinge in the middle. I know modern bots are more sophisticated than that, but still--do you know how many muscles there are in a human arm?

The best figure I'm coming up with is 23, not including the shoulder. There are big ones and little ones, ones that wrap around and layer over each other, muscles for flexing and muscles for twisting, muscles for power and muscles for stabilization. The elbow is normally represented by a hinge, but try twisting your wrist--notice how the radius and ulna move semi-independently and actually cross over each other when you do that? You can't do that with actuators and metal rods, or at least I've never seen it done or even seriously proposed.

And that's just an arm, one of the simple parts! Move one joint up to the shoulder and things get crazy complex right away. Your scapula is this huge plate of sculpted bone with muscles and tendons and ligaments coming onto it from all over the place, and it articulates with the humerus and clavicle in ways that the term "ball-and-socket joint" really doesn't begin to do justice to. And the spine, the spine! Ow, my spine!

Ecce looks a lot closer to what is going on in a real human. It drops the linear actuators, uses a skeleton that looks eerily real, and makes everything about the bones and tendons. A muscle can be thought of as just a ligament that is capable of contracting--where the contractile force is coming from isn't so important, it can come from within the muscle or it can come from something pulling on a ligament. (Look at your fingers, for instance. They have no muscles in them, just long tendons linking them to a set of muscles that anchor up by your elbow; a really elegant solution to the problem of needing a hand that is both slender and powerful.) So they move most of the motors into the thoracic cavity (robots don't need lungs, y'all) and hook everything up to their artificial skeleton using bundles of elastic, with the skeleton itself providing the pivot and anchor points for their crazy block-and-tackle system gone wild. Not all that different from how you yourself are put together. (I of course am a superintelligent multi-kilometers-long spaceship controlled by a trio of semi-independent intellects residing mainly in hyperspace.)

It looks hideously overcomplicated (and also sort of macabre) but I'm pretty sure that the design of the actual human skeletomusculature is actually damn near as simple and streamlined as it is possible for it to be for the job that it actually does. If you want to build a robot that can interact with the world like a human does, I think this team is on the right track.

Of course, that thermoplastic polymer will eventually have to go. 60 degrees celsius isn't that far off the kind of temps you can get on a really hot day in a hot part of the Earth; nobody's going to buy a robot manservant who melts if you accidentally leave him in the car during the summer. Still, I really think this approach shows a lot of promise.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:43 PM on November 18, 2014 [14 favorites]


One of the interesting implications of the proposed research (although I'm not sure how plausible it is) is the idea of embodied intelligence. A great deal of your early learning goes into figuring out how to control the competing pressures of your body to move around. It seems that, in their model, intelligence isn't separate from the body, but is inextricably tied to it.
posted by codacorolla at 4:48 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Is the name Ecce some kind of nerdy "no homo"?
posted by Pope Guilty


It's probably a reference to Pilate presenting a freshly-flogged Christ to the Sanhedrin immediately prior to his crucifixion, saying, "Ecce, Homo" which translates as "Behold, the man."
posted by Ryvar at 4:54 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


localroger: "It bears an unnerving resemblance to Bill D. Cat from Bloom County."

Wow, you're not kidding, it is a dead ringer.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:00 PM on November 18, 2014


It's probably a reference to Pilate presenting a freshly-flogged Christ to the Sanhedrin immediately prior to his crucifixion, saying, "Ecce, Homo" which translates as "Behold, the man."

That, uh, was the joke. /deep sigh
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:17 PM on November 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


Then in the end bit they had made it put a shirt on, and I was like "nevermind, that doesn't help at all." It actually looked sort of... pathetic.

SEE MOM I TOLD YOU IT LOOKS BAD AND I AM MEANT TO BE FREE
posted by Greg Nog at 5:38 PM on November 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


That, uh, was the joke. /deep sigh
posted by Pope Guilty


My bad, I just came here from a 50% religious right FB feed (family, not friends) post-midterm elections. That kind of sarcasm is gonna go straight over my head right now.
posted by Ryvar at 6:10 PM on November 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


I highly recommend looking at the first link with the Bill Laswell track "Open URL" from the previous post playing as sound track.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 6:59 PM on November 18, 2014


That is the saddest robot I've ever seen.

In my dreams tonight I'm going to see it over and over and it's going to be speaking, in a gravely whisper, stuttering and hesitating, saying "k..k... kill me now!" over and over.
posted by mmoncur at 7:00 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


My bad, I just came here from a 50% religious right FB feed (family, not friends) post-midterm elections.

Ooof, sympathies.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:39 PM on November 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


Put a worm brain in it!
posted by moonmilk at 7:41 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


All the single lumbricids...
If you liked it, you shoulda put a worm brain in it...
posted by symbioid at 9:05 PM on November 18, 2014


I like that the decided to demonstrate its dexterity by having it lift a bong at 1:10.
posted by The Tensor at 9:47 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


I love that they're using Polymorph! Of course, once they have the shapes right they can then reproduce those bones in a more heat-resistant material. But Polymorph is cool stuff.
I have a big bag of it right here, and you can make so many practical and cool things with it. Everyone should try it some time.
posted by Too-Ticky at 4:49 AM on November 19, 2014


Disappointingly, despite the promising name this has very little to do with Eckythump.
posted by Mokusatsu at 6:17 AM on November 19, 2014


I think there is always going to be a need for robots of the kind that we usually see today, especially for a lot of manufacturing work but I've often thought that many of the robots of the future will work more like this one with a skeletal structure and actuators that act like muscles. Eventually, the robots that we have in our homes will probably be built like this one.

I think of Ecce here as more of a proof of concept effort. Now we just need for someone to invent a replacement for the screw drive motor + shock cord setup that combines the two into one corded piece to get rid of most of the bulk of the thing and probably a better material of the bones and tendons. Then we get to have some really cool looking robots (and better prosthetics!) and we only have to worry about the inevitable robot uprising.
posted by VTX at 8:52 AM on November 19, 2014


It works a 24 hour shift at the automobile manufactory, and, if it ever had any time off, it would like to play golf.
posted by mule98J at 2:08 PM on November 19, 2014


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