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Everyday Poise: Robot Developmental Movement

by Ellen on October 30th, 2015

I’ve become surprisingly fascinated with robots – specifically, watching humanoid and quadrupedal robots moving around. It strikes me as very telling, since someone had to program that robot to move in that way. I love to watch robot movement and look for similarities between the patterns the programmers have come up with and the developmental movement patterns described by Raymond Dart.

As an example, check out this cool video of the RoboCup soccer tournament from 2009. Pay particular attention to what happens when the robots fall over.

Part of the deal with the RoboCup is that once the game begins, the only input allowed from the humans is the refereeing. The robots have to essentially fend for themselves, and that becomes very apparent whenever a little guy falls down – which happens with some frequency in this video. Clearly, the team with better programming has an advantage – if their particular algorithm for coding the robots results in less falls and/or more successful recoveries from falls, they will get more time to play.

Skip to 1:00 into the video. The left-hand robot is preparing to kick the ball, and you can see him lining up nicely. However, when he goes into his ‘kick’ algorithm and lifts his right leg, he ends up leaning past where he can maintain his balance and topples over. Here’s where it gets interesting. Check out the way he gets back up – it’s almost move-for-move identical to the Dart Procedures method of getting off the floor!

First, he turns his head and uses the sensors in his eyes to check out his surroundings and orient himself so that he’s facedown on the floor. His arms slide out and up over his head, rotating in an almost perfect rendition of what Dart referred to as ‘ventigrade,’ or ‘fish arms.’ Then, his knees bend and his hips slide back, putting him first on elbows and knees (what would obviously be crawling position if the robots had a bit more flexibility) and then rocking himself back onto his feet. Pay close attention to the moment where he balances on his feet and goes into a deep squat – that’s what we’d refer to as an ‘Alexander Squat,’ where the head goes up and the hips go down to counterbalance each other! At that point, all he has to do is straighten his knees and he’s good to go! No wonder he got applause when he finished getting up – it was some pretty impressive hands-off coding!

Clearly someone on the blue team studied developmental movement when it came time to program the robots getting off the floor! However, there’s more to soccer than getting up after you fall – skip ahead to 5:00.

As we saw before, and as you continue to see when you watch the rest of the video, while blue team is great at recovering from falls, they seem to have some issues with their ‘kick’ coding. Something about their program is tipping the bots too far off-balance when they lift their leg, so they often end up falling over before they can get the kick off. Contrast that with the kick that the red bot is about to do. He stays centered over his supporting leg, using the knee and hip joints to bend his kicking leg up and give clearance for the kick without tipping his upper body. If you look closely, you can see the moment where his foot comes completely off the floor while still parallel to it. Contrast that with blue bot’s attempt earlier on – he straightens his knees and rocks to the side before picking up his leg, so he’s already more off-balance from the get-go. Red bot seems to have a more methodical programmer at work, making sure he’s balanced before even attempting to lift the leg.

I love watching videos like this – you can really see how much conscious thought had to go into something that we generally do automatically. Since the robots in this tournament are all standard hardware, the only real skill difference is in the programming choices. How they go about having the robots move makes the difference between a winning team and a losing team – a perfect example of use affecting functioning!

Forward and Up! is a Pittsburgh-based private practice offering quality instruction in the Alexander Technique in a positive and supportive environment.

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