We’re more or less still at the point of robotics where engineers are throwing anything at the wall and hoping to find a design that sticks. Or at least, that seems like the best explanation for why Kawasaki created a four-legged walking Ibex — a species of wild goat — that can haul cargo or passengers assuming neither are in much of a hurry.
Officially revealed at the 2022 International Robot Exhibition (iREX) in Tokyo this past week, Bex is an offshoot of Kawasaki’s Kaleido program which, since 2015, has been working on developing bi-pedal humanoid robots.
As is obvious while watching every single blooper reel that Boston Dynamics’ has shared of its multi-million dollar Atlas robot slipping and falling, developing a bipedal robot that’s as agile and stable on two feet as a real human is no easy task. And that’s what led to the creation of Bex. The robotics engineers at Kawasaki were looking for a happy medium between the dexterity of a bipedal robot that can traverse uneven terrains with the reliability of a wheeled robot that avoids issues with balance by keeping all of its wheels on the ground at all times.
For those times when speed is a priority and route planning can take advantage of smooth, paved surfaces, the Bex robot is able to lower its body and kneel on four pairs of wheels located on each knee, turning it into an electric scooter of sorts. But when terrain starts to get uneven, the Bex can stand and manoeuvre on four highly-articulated legs using a gait that ensures at least half of them are touching the ground at any given time, greatly reducing the balancing act it needs to perform.
The Bex’s cargo capacity is rated at around 100 kg, so in addition to hauling heavy materials, it can carry human passengers who steer the quadruped using a traditional pair of handlebars. And realising the limited appeal and functionality of designing this bot to look like a wild goat, Kawasaki has also designed the upper portion of the Bex to be completely modular. So customers who want to focus on carrying cargo can do away with the animal motif altogether, while those seeing an opportunity to modernise their cattle ranches could potentially go full equestrian with this robot and bring the cowpoke fully into the 21st century.