First of all, Astro’s style of locomotion is intended to be more than just an attention-getter. Like the other robo-dogs that are on the market or in development, it’s able to withstand attempts at knocking it over, plus it’s well-suited to traversing rough terrain – such as it might encounter in search-and-rescue operations, or when surveying disaster sites.
What reportedly makes Astro special, however, is the set of Nvidia Jetson TX2 graphics processing units contained within its 3D-printed, Doberman pinscher-inspired head. These give the robot a combined four teraflops of computing power, and with a little help from onboard sensors including a radar imaging module, cameras, and a directional microphone, they allow it to interpret voice commands and make sense of its surroundings.
Additionally, the 100-lb (45-kg) robot utilizes a deep neural network to learn new tasks through a process of trial and error.
So far, Astro is able to respond to basic commands such as “sit,” “stand” and “lie down.” Once developed further and equipped with additional sensors, however, it could find use in applications such as the detection of guns and explosives, guiding the blind, exploring hazardous environments, or assisting soldiers on the battlefield. It would be aided in its work by the ability to search through thousands of faces in a database, sniff out and identify airborne substances, hear distress calls that are inaudible to humans, along with various other robo-dog “superpowers.”
The Astro research project is being led by Assoc. Prof. Elan Barenholtz, Asst. Prof. William Hahn, and Pedram Nimreezi, who is the director of intelligent software in the university’s Machine Perception and Cognitive Robotics Laboratory. You can see the robot in action, in the following video.
Dr. Hans C. Mumm