New walking robot 'HECTOR' developed at the Bielefeld CITEC Center of Excellence

Even the latest walking robot is (still) unable to move as elegantly as any animal. How do animals manage to do this? Biologists and engineers at the Bielefeld Center of Excellence 'Cognitive Interaction Technology' (CITEC) are working together to unravel this secret of nature.

They have developed the hexapod walking robot 'HECTOR' for this purpose. Technologically, HECTOR implements the properties of its biological models better than ever before. The name HECTOR stands for 'hexapod cognitive autonomously operating robot'. CITEC will be presenting the concept, the design study, and the main functional components of HECTOR on Friday, 11.02.2011.

Fully in the tradition of Bielefeld University, HECTOR is the outcome of interdisciplinary exchange and cooperation across faculties, with external partners also being integrated into the areas of functional design and materials research. The leading developers of HECTOR were the research group Mechatronics of Biomimetic Actuators and the Department of Biological Cybernetics. The former contributed their extensive know-how in the field of biologically inspired drives and drive controls with the physicist Jan Paskarbeit being decisively responsible for the mechatronic work.

As project managers, Dr. Axel Schneider (Faculty of Technology) and Prof. Dr. Josef Schmitz (Faculty of Biology) are contributing their many years of research experience with the hexapod walking robot TARRY. When completed, HECTOR will be used as a versatile test bed in various departments and projects at the Center of Excellence. To facilitate changing the special sensor equipment for different studies, the body design follows an exchangeable lid concept developed in cooperation with the Folkwang Hochschule in Essen. For example, this makes it possible to switch quickly from an omnidirectional camera for near-range and long-range sensing to a tactile antenna for exploring proximal space.

A special interface and bus concept has also been developed, making it easy to link sensory information processing to the movement control system. The robot's control programme works according to the distributed intelligence principle found in insect brains, and it will soon also be able to learn and plan ahead. In the future, this will enable HECTOR to make its way through unfamiliar territory and, for example, carry out exploration tasks autonomously. New joint drives have been developed for HECTOR that work as smoothly as muscles. Each of these highly integrated drives is equipped with all the necessary sensors, the complete control electronics with its own processor as well as a sensorised elastic coupling for which a patent has been applied.

This makes it possible to control each of the 18 leg joints on the basis of biologically inspired control algorithms and, for example, react by yielding during collisions or interactions with human beings. Like an insect, the robot possesses an extremely light but also very robust exoskeleton. The thin-walled body shell made of carbon-fibre reinforced plastic was developed and optimized in cooperation with the Leibniz Institute of Polymer Research Dresden. Even with a 30 kg load, the deformation is less than 1 mm. This new three-segment body shell makes up only approximately 13% of the total weight of this 1-metre long robot weighing 12 kg.

Contact: Prof. Dr. Josef Schmitz Department of Biological Cybernetics Bielefeld University e-mail: Josef.Schmitz[at]