Promising and creepy

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By 2017-08-20

The uncanny valley teems with creepy humanoids – machines not quite perfect enough to be mistaken for people, but not quite comically robotic enough to be endearing. Lately, they've been joined by robo-animals, like the mechanical dog from Boston Dynamics that not-at-all-unsettlingly regains its balance if you kick it.

Now, a new robot is scuttling into the uncanny valley. Hexa has six legs, looks like a bug, and moves with bizarre confidence. And it just might bring robot hacking to the masses.

Hexa uses a variety of sensors to find its way around, including a camera and distance sensor. You control this bot with your phone, and it scales steps and uneven terrain with ease. You don't have to control individual legs to stagger up a step, either – Hexa automatically summits obstacles along the way.

Chalk that up to the six legs. It takes a lot of energy to balance on two legs, and it's [really] hard to make a robot do what comes naturally to us humans. Having six legs, on the other hand, saves energy and gives the robot extra abilities. "You only need three legs to stand on the ground, and we can use the other three legs to maintain balance or climb stairs," says Andy Xu, the COO of Vincross, Hexa's maker.

Six legs aren't necessarily better than four – or two, or even one – but all those limbs give Hexa unique capabilities. Hexa has the stability and manoeuvrability to one day explore a collapsed building, for instance, while a two-legged robot might be better at navigating a standing building (which is, after all, designed with the human body in mind).

Still, the problems of locomotion in robotics are mighty, in part because innovation comes to hardware more slowly than software. Hardware is expensive and inaccessible for folks who don't have access to multimillion-dollar labs or factories. Tinkering with software, on the other hand, is as easy as booting up a computer.

So with Hexa, Vincross sees an opportunity to bring experimental robotics to the masses. It's not just a six-legged bot – it's an open platform where budding roboticists can teach the robot new skills, from dance moves to object recognition. Developers can then sell these skills in a marketplace, essentially an app store for robot hacks. Whether you train it to scale mountains or bust a move is totally up to you.

(Source: Wired.com)

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