Recently we came across a robot developed by a Malaysian that bears similarities to Boston Dynamics' spot on Facebook.
Fascinated, I turned to its creator, Leom, who said that despite its visual similarities, its design was not at all inspired by Spot. “In fact, all four-legged robots will look the same. Just like any brand car has 4 wheels, ”he told Vulcan Post.
“It was my own inspiration not to do anything with Boston Dynamics, which I think spent millions of dollars creating. As a Malaysian, I am proud to say that we have something that is 100% original design. "
It started with Legos
Leom had been inspired by all things mechanics and robotics since he was nine. Since then, he has created various small projects using Lego Technic sets and actual hardware, based on technical skills acquired out of curiosity.
After graduating in automation and manufacturing technology 13 years ago, he got a job in robotics. Back then, the web showed limited resources of robots created by Malaysians themselves. Most of the four-legged robots he could find came from NASA or from research institutes overseas.
“I was inspired by a 6-legged robot builder from the UK named Matt Denton. At that time he had the most amazing 6-legged robots, ”recalls Leom.
This influence became a fundamental goal for him to build a four-legged friend (a robot with 4 legs) that could walk.
Meet cold feet
- Cold Feet looks like a robo dog when standing upright / Image credit: Leom
- Size comparison with a gamepad and headphones / Image credit: Leom
During the day, Leom is a machine designer in a Malaysian company that manufactures tailor-made manufacturing and automation machines. He would work on his robotics pastime after work and on weekends.
Having a hobby in robotics doesn't come cheap, however. To manage costs, he would design them so that their parts could be easily purchased online by the average consumer.
Aside from buying parts, the main structure of its robots is usually 3D printed, which significantly reduces the cost of a prototype. In total, he said he had spent an estimated RM 4,000 on the procurement of materials for Cold Feet.
The dog-like Android with the name Cold Feet or QSR-X2 is about the size of A4 paper (62.37 cm²) and weighs about 3 kg. It's about nine times smaller than the Boston Dynamics Spot (550 cm²), which is about the size of A1 paper and weighs 31.7 kg.
Leom explained that the finished cold feet should be able to navigate and move autonomously. Otherwise, it can also be controlled from a wireless gamepad or PC anywhere in the world using an online remote control.
In addition, it has obstacle avoidance capabilities for various terrains and a camera system for tracking faces. In fact, Cold Feet is the third iteration of Leom's quadruped robot designs.
His first was built in 2009, a prototype called the QSR-X1 that looked more like a spider. The main goal at the time was to get it running, using a solid, hard-coded program that it achieved within a few months.
Since appearance was not a priority here, it was built with simple and accessible components that he could find on the market. The project went into hibernation until 2017, where the goal was to improve its motion control for smoother movement while walking.
"The hardest part of robotics for this fluid motion was using something called 'inverse kinematic computation' on the robot you were building," he said.
For laypeople, an engineer would have to derive a complicated set of mathematical formulas to represent all of the joints of the robot. Leom designed his own formulas within 6 months that were helpful for his final version of the QSR-X1, Black Widow.
How Black Widow Moves / Image Credit: Leom
With Black Widow, appearance is important. The use of suitable materials for his robot made assembly work easier, but led to higher costs. It could also be controlled from a PC via Bluetooth.
Now he continues to focus on developing the capabilities of Cold Feet and has no plans to build another more advanced robot anytime soon.
No plans for mass production
Left the black widow and right the prototype / Photo credit: Leom
Since Leom's robots are more of a creative way to hone his tech skills, he told Vulcan Post that he has no plans to monetize his creations for the time being.
"As I understand in Malaysia, even in other countries like Europe or the US, only a very small group of people will really spend money on something like this unless it is for an essential need," noted Leom.
He stated that it was difficult for the general public outside of engineering to understand the expensive prices. Many may not find it a worthwhile investment either. A myriad of safety rules and regulations will come into play in the corporate sectors, which will also drive up the cost of a robot.
“So monetization may not be the right time, at least for now. But if we focus on the hobby sector or personal educational purposes we probably have a chance, ”he added.
Regarding the practical application of Cold Feet, Leom shared that those who would benefit most from its commercialization would be first responders.
Hardware / Photo credit from Cold Feet: Leom
Think of firefighters who were called in to rescue victims in an earthquake. The robot can traverse rough terrain with its attached camera to find victims stuck under rubble that is otherwise unsafe for rescuers.
If the product is aimed at the B2C sector, Leom assumes that it is more for entertainment or companion purposes, similar to an Android pet.
Just like with art, creators will always feel that there is still something that can be improved in their creation. Leom agreed, believing that Cold Feet has not yet reached its full potential.
“The key question is, at what stage do you justify the goal within the budget that you have set for it? I can have the ultimate goal for whatever works in my mind as ideal, but when it comes to reality and practical problems there are limitations to current technology where we as humanity still have no better way to solve this the moment."
Leom, engineer behind QSR-X2.
Right now, Leom's ultimate endpoint is getting cold feet to move on their own without the need for people or remote controls (like a Roomba).
- You can find out more about Leom here.
- Read about Malaysian startups we've covered here.
Selected image source: Leom, engineer behind QSR-X2