#GOINGTOIEU

06/03/2024

“Truth is stranger than fiction.” – Mark Twain

Artificial intelligence is the biggest driver of technological advancement in the modern world. Across various applications, it’s cementing its capacity to create massive change and reshape the way we live and work. From automating industrial processes to optimizing customer experiences and more—AI’s potential is boundless.

As the digital age progresses, AI keeps blurring the lines between fantasy and reality even further. And with innovation central to everything we do at IE University, three students are grabbing the opportunity to push those limits to the cutting edge in a unique, tangible way.

The journey begins 

Gregorio Orlando, Rodrigo Sagastegui and Vera Prohaska all study the Bachelor in Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence. Though they’re at different stages of the program—Gregorio and Rodrigo are in their second year while Vera is a fourth-year student—they are bound by common threads of passion, determination and intellectual curiosity that help overcome any challenges.

These students came together to show what they, and the technology, can do by creating IE University’s first robot dog. They set out to leave their mark on the program while making a valuable contribution to the field. Inspired by the success of other engineers worldwide in similar projects, they wanted to reach a new level of robotics with their own custom-made quadruped robot.

However, most of their motivation came from a desire to make this knowledge more accessible across the board. “Right now, relevant information is scattered around different research papers and diverse projects,” they told us. “Our purpose is to streamline this process by integrating all the dispersed knowledge and making it accessible.”

Thanks to the IE Robotics & AI Club, they found the right guidance and support to achieve all that and more. But more importantly, they could also count on the resources and ingenuity of the IE Robotics & AI Lab, which offered the perfect space to put their ideas into action—plus the state-of-the-art tools for all their experimentation and implementation needs.

Botzo, a really good boy

The end result of this process is Botzo, IE University’s first automated robot dog with basic dynamic walking capabilities. 

Botzo is the culmination of a great deal of intensive work, and a testament to Gregorio, Rodrigo and Vera’s drive. The quadruped robot prototype is a 2-Degree-of-Freedom (2-DoF) system that utilizes Arduino technology and harnesses the power of inverse kinematics. It’s housed in a strong plastic casing, fabricated using the latest 3D-printing equipment. 

The team integrated various technologies to make Botzo fully functional, including:

  • Arduino processors for real-time processing.
  • Rechargeable battery, independent to optimize functionality.
  • Inverse kinematics to calculate precise joint movements, enabling Botzo to walk in a dynamic, lifelike manner.
  • Gait planning, facilitating efficient, natural movements.
  • Remote control functionalities, making Botzo more accessible and user-friendly.
  • 3D printing to construct hardware according to accurate specifications.

Bringing Botzo to life

According to the team, their biggest challenge was one that has faced every attempt to create quadruped robots around the world: cost-efficiency. “Our goal was to embark on the creation of an affordable, open-source robot dog.” Doing so, however, would require that they deep dive into every technical intricacy of the project, from conceptualizing to prototyping and real-world simulation—a condition they were more than willing to meet.

Integrating open-source hardware and software solutions like Arduino helped them realize this goal and keep costs down. But they soon ran into another challenge: implementing inverse kinematics on the robot dog. “Despite the amount of well-explained online resources and a seemingly straightforward theoretical understanding, translating these equations into functional hardware presented unexpected problems,” they explained.

However, numerous rounds of trial and error helped them work out the kinks in their calculations. They were able to develop a precise methodology tailored to Botzo, leading to the first version of the university’s first-ever robot dog. 

Collaborating into the future

For Gregorio, Rodrigo and Vera, the secret to their success is collaboration: “This achievement marked an exceptional milestone for our team, showcasing the power of perseverance, problem-solving and collaborative effort in overcoming intricate technical challenges.”

They say working together made the process more fun and productive, with each team member contributing unique knowledge and skills that enriched the project. It also allowed them to cultivate their expertise in hardware components like Arduino, Bluetooth and PowerBoost, as well as software applications such as inverse kinematics. But more importantly, they learned how to apply theoretical knowledge to real-world robotics.

They’ve already started making plans for the next iteration of Botzo. Set to be more advanced, Botzo 2.0 will leverage more powerful Arduino processors and a robust Robot Operating System (ROS2) for an expanded range of capabilities. The team is also toying with the idea of incorporating Reinforcement Learning to “enhance its fluidity and adaptability.”

Whatever direction they choose, the Botzo project is just the latest example of the creativity and innovation in the IE University community. It’s proof that our learning environment keeps in step with the professional world, equipping students to lead change right from their earliest days in the field. Ultimately, the team’s ambition is to share their zeal for the field: “Our vision? To ignite a passion for robotics and AI.”