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Virginia Tech finds star on football field: Push-up pumping robot

(WDBJ)
Published: Oct. 3, 2019 at 10:59 PM EDT
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It may not be as fast as Tre Turner or as big as James Mitchell, but when it comes to doing push-ups, Virginia Tech's latest on-field star has them all beat.

Last Friday, that star, a 2-foot-high, push-up-pumping robot, went viral, appearing everywhere from WDBJ7 to ESPN, hammering out push-up after push-up for every point Tech scored on the field.

Most days though, you'll find them inside Dr. Kaveh Hamed's lab, tucked into Virginia Tech's Goodwin Hall.

"I'm dreaming about an age in which we can have these robots like dogs," said Dr. Hamed, "so they can be assistive dogs, guide dogs, or they can be in industry helping people."

And these robots can do much more than push-ups. They can walk and run, ambling from side to side across varied and difficult terrain.

"It looks simple," said Dr. Hamed. "We can walk, run, every moment. But when you translate it into machines, it's very challenging."

To overcome that challenge, Dr. Hamed and his team start with living animals, usually dogs, and study how they move. They then translate those movements into tens of thousands of lines of computer code, controlling motors that mimic hips, wrists, and more.

"Then I have another motor here for the knee-flexion extension, so each leg has three motors," said Vinay Kamidi, one of the Graduate Research Assistants in the lab.

His job is to help program and test the robots, over and over again. "Our goal is to be versatile," he said.

And that versatility is key, because one day, these machines might just save your life. Eventually, robots like these could be sent into fires and other disaster areas, scouring dangerous terrain for the sick and injured.

And the computer code that powers it all could help control artificial arms and legs "to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities," said Dr. Hamed.

But those days are still years in the future. For now, the robots will be confined to the lab. And, just maybe, the occasional football game.

The research is made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation, and is conducted in conjunction with CalTech.

Copyright 2019/WDBJ7. All rights reserved.

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