When designing a mobility system for a robot, the goal is usually to come up with one single system that allows your robot to do everything that you might conceivably need it to do, whether that’s walking, running, rolling, swimming, or some combination of those things. This is not at all how humans do it, though: If humans followed the robot model, we’d be walking around wearing some sort of horrific combination of sneakers, hiking boots, roller skates, skis, and flippers on our feet. Instead, we do the sensible thing, and optimize our mobility system for different situations by putting on different pairs of shoes.
At ICRA, researchers from Georgia Tech demonstrated how this shoe swapping could be applied to robots. They haven’t just come up with a robot that can use “swappable propulsors”—as they call the robot’s shoes—but crucially, they’ve managed to get it to the swapping all by itself with a cute little robot arm.