PANDORA is the TREC Lab’s 3rd generation bipedal, autonomous humanoid robot. This project investigates an affordable multi-use design that will be easy to prototype new ideas and test new theories within the humanoid robot space. PANDORA is a first of a kind in humanoid robotics, with a structure, unlike that of her predecessors THOR and ESCHER, that has been designed around the use of additive manufacturing. This approach allows for faster prototyping and testing while lowering cost when compared to the THOR and ESCHER’s conventional subtractive manufacturing method. The design of PANDORA allows for a faster turnaround time from concept sketches to testing through the utilization of additive manufacturing and design simplification. PANDORA’s structural components can be printed in just under two weeks rather than the months of manufacturing required for THOR and ESCHER. Printing replacement parts can be completed in a matter of hours rather than days, which allows the team to quickly prepare for any new testing. PANDORA is the next generation research robot that will be used to propel new concepts onto a useable test platform.
The project goals are to: 1) Create a design that conducive to 3D printing. The design of PANDORA will need to be simplified from THOR and ESCHER to take advantage of additive manufacturing capabilities. 2) Lower the manufacturing cost from previous generation robots. The thought behind this project is to develop an affordable platform to continue robotic research and development. 3) Create a design that is lighter to increase performance capability. This achievement will be accomplished through streamlining of parts that are created through additive manufacturing as well as changing the material type. 4) The design should be easy to use and quick to transition from designing to testing. PANDORA will be designed around the ability to easily create and exchange parts to test new design ideas or fix testing damage. The overall goal is to create a new testing platform for humanoid robots that balances durability, weight, and ease of use.
Humanoid robotics have fallen to the sidelines in this era of VR simulation and exoskeletons, but PANDORA pushes on with the TREC lab tradition of developing humanoid robots. The use of robots is becoming more common in many industrial and non-industrial settings that have removed the human factor from many dangerous situations and put a machine there instead. That leaves room for a general-purpose robot that can be used to complete generalized tasks that humans find mundane. In the history of the TREC lab, there have been 2 major humanoid robots: THOR and ESCHER. THOR was developed under a naval research grant that was looking into creating a firefighting robot that would be able to fight fires onboard ships. ESCHER succeeded THOR with slight modifications in build and competed in the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) in 2015. In 2018, we set a goal to design a new robot using several design similarities and components from THOR and ESCHER. ATHENA is the new humanoid test robot that is taking the use of additive manufacturing and a simplified design to bring the TREC lab into a new generation of humanoid robot development.


Alexander Leonessa

Professor, Mechanical Engineering Department

Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24060