There's no point in sugar-coating it, even the most advanced autonomous walking robots straight-up suck compared to humans and animals. They're constantly tripping and stumbling over various types of terrain, which is why researchers at UC Berkeley and ETH Zurich have come up with a clever little scout bot that teams up with larger walking robots to help them plot the safest course.
The larger robot used for this experiment is ETH Zurich's StarlETH quadruped, while the tiny scout is UC Berkeley's VelociRoACH. The smaller scout bot stays three or four feet ahead of its larger partner, and in this instance it's actually being used to determine if the terrain ahead is slippery, which could easily trip up the quadruped.
A large trackable marker is located on the scout's back, which is monitored by a camera on the larger quadruped to determine its progress. If it moves along in a relatively straight line, it means the going is easy and it's safe to proceed. But if the smaller robot struggles or spins around, it means the terrain has suddenly gotten slippery and it's best to find an alternate route.
In a real environment, several of these robots could go on ahead to find the safest route for a larger robot to follow. And while there's always the risk of the smaller robot getting stranded, that's why it's designed to be cheap, simple and near disposable. But as the researchers found out in this unfortunate outtake, getting stranded isn't the only risk faced by these insect-like scouts. [IEEE Spectrum]