The flag: Morty – the robot dog that learns to walk on its own

Stuttgart Although animals have all the muscles and tendons needed to move after birth, they must first learn how to coordinate. So the first attempts to walk usually consist of uncontrolled walking, in which the animals have to rely on their reactions. In order to understand how animals learn from stutterers, Stuttgart researchers built a four-legged morty robot. “As engineers or experts in robotics, we sought the answer by building a robot that had animal-like reactions and learned from mistakes,” says Felix Robert, a former doctoral student at the Max Planck Institute.

Learn to walk in an hour

The result: using an algorithm, the bot Morti learns how to use its mechanics as much as possible in just one hour. If it stumbles, the learning algorithm changes how far the legs swing back and forth, how fast they swing, and how long the leg stays on the ground. The leg movement is adjusted so that the walker works without stumbling. “Changing what you want your legs to do is a learning process,” Robert says.

This is fundamental research into the relationship between robotics and biology. In Morti, a computer does what neurons in the spinal cord do in animals. To do this, the robotic dog constantly compares sensor information from its foot with movement patterns in the hypothetical spinal cord. “We cannot study the spinal cord of a living animal,” says co-author Alexander Badri Spruitz. “But we can model that in a robot.”

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