Legged robots are mainly designed to traverse unstructured environments where wheeled robots have limited mobility. Their applications range from nuclear decommissioning to mining, search and rescue, inspection and surveillance. In addition, they can be applied to flank human workers (or collaborate with them) in order to reduce labor accidents, as well as in elderly care. The next generation of legged robots are envisioned to operate either autonomously or semi-autonomously (through tele-operation) over uneven terrains. This requires the capability to comply with disturbances, to wisely exploit information from the visual feedback, and the ability to manipulate objects or interact with the environment. Therefore, the main ingredients for legged locomotion are planning, control, perception and state estimation. In this talk I will present research results in these fields obtained in more than ten years of experience in legged locomotion. Moreover, I will illustrate my future research vision, that encompasses
two research axes: 1) explore novel applications for legged robots (e.g. space exploration). 2) enhance the motion capability of legged robots through the use of numerical optimization in planning trajectories. Indeed, optimization-based planning strategies enable to generalize locomotion to address different terrains and complex motions. With respect to more myopic heuristic approaches (that lack awareness of the future) they give the possibility to reach the robot performance limits and to guarantee physical feasibility of the planned trajectories, because they take into account the hardware constraints that are typical of legged robots (kinematic and actuation limits) and the interaction with the environment.
Michele Focchi is currently a Researcher at Università di Trento and a visiting scientist at Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia. He received both the Bsc. and the Msc. in Control System Engineering from Politecnico di Milano. In 2009 he joined IIT where he developed a micro-turbine for which he obtained an international patent. In 2013, he got a PhD in robotics, getting involved in the Hydraulically Actuated Quadruped Robot project. He initially was developing torque controllers for locomotion purposes, subsequently he moved to higher level (whole-body) controllers. He was also investigating locomotion strategies that are robust to uncertainties an work reliably on the real platform. Currently his research interests are focused on pushing the performances of legged robots in traversing unstructured environments, by using optimization-based planning strategies to perform dynamic motion planning. He was a leader of the ANT project with the Eurpean Space Agency with the aim to develop navigation system for space exploration. On 2022 he joined University of Trento where he started to teach courses on Robotics. He published more than 42 papers in international journals and conferences and supervised several master and PhD thesis.