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Boston Dynamics' Shift from Hydraulic to Electric Actuation: A New Era in Robotics

CubeMars / 2024-05-23 10:24:28

Recently, Boston Dynamics announced the retirement of its hydraulically actuated bipedal humanoid robot, Atlas. However, less than 24 hours later, they unveiled the fully electric Atlas robot. As a pioneer and leader in the global robotics industry, Boston Dynamics' move has garnered significant attention.

The retirement of the hydraulic Atlas robot likely stems from the limitations of hydraulic systems in meeting the rapidly evolving demands of AI. While hydraulic actuation offers powerful performance, it is rigid and costly. In contrast, electric actuation is more cost-effective, and recent advancements in power and torque density have made it increasingly viable. Many new-generation humanoid robots now employ electric actuation. Industry experts view Boston Dynamics' shift from "hydraulics" to "electric" as a strategic decision to reduce costs and expand their capabilities in diverse applications.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Hydraulic and Electric Actuation

1、Hydraulic Actuation

Hydraulic systems generate high-pressure fluid through a pump, converting hydraulic energy into mechanical energy to drive actuators. The key advantages of hydraulic systems compared to other transmission methods (especially electric actuation) include:

High Torque Density: Hydraulic systems can provide high torque output, suitable for heavy-duty applications.

High Force Output: Capable of generating significant force in a compact size, meeting the demands of high-load operations.

However, hydraulic systems have notable disadvantages in robotic applications:

Low Overall Energy Efficiency: Hydraulic systems are generally less energy-efficient.

Complexity and High Maintenance Costs: The large number of components increases the likelihood of failure and complicates maintenance.

Limited Response Speed: Due to the complexity of mechanical pumps, valves, and servo motor systems, the overall response speed may be slower.

High Production Costs: The manufacturing and maintenance of highly integrated hydraulic actuators are costly.

Maintenance Challenges: Hydraulic systems are complex and prone to issues like leaks, requiring specialized maintenance teams.

2、Electric Actuation

Electric actuation involves directly driving the load with an electric motor, without hydraulic transmission. The primary advantages of electric systems include:

Quiet and Fast Response: Electric systems are generally quieter and have faster response times.

Precise Control: Suitable for fine-tuned actions, essential for tasks requiring high precision and agility.

Energy Efficiency: Electric actuation is more energy-efficient, reducing operational costs and environmental impact.

Flexibility: Electric systems offer high design flexibility, enabling rapid prototyping and deployment.

While electric actuation traditionally has lower torque and power density than hydraulic systems, recent advancements, particularly in direct drive and quasi-direct drive (QDD) technologies, have significantly mitigated these limitations. These innovations suggest that under new technological frameworks, the disadvantages of electric actuation will gradually be overcome.

Boston Dynamics' Strategic Shift

Boston Dynamics has consistently pursued commercialization over the years. While hydraulic robots are powerful, their complexity and high costs hinder widespread commercialization. In contrast, electric actuation solutions have been successfully implemented by numerous robotics companies, demonstrating excellent performance and control. From a technical perspective, Boston Dynamics' abandonment of hydraulic actuation in favor of electric actuation introduces new discussions and hope for the industry.

The Evolution of Electric Actuation

Electric actuation systems, as the core components enabling robotic joint movement, have been a focal point of robotics hardware research. The evolution of electric actuation has progressed from rigid high-reduction drives to elastic series elastic actuators (SEA) and now to quasi-direct drive (QDD) systems. QDD technology is widely used in the robotics industry, allowing robots to sense external interaction forces through closed-loop force control. Combining low-speed, high-torque motors with low-ratio gearboxes, QDD systems offer high force control bandwidth and impact resistance while maintaining high precision and efficiency, merging the advantages of direct drive and traditional motor systems.

The Immense Potential of the Electric Actuation Market

Boston Dynamics, as an industry leader, switching from hydraulic to electric actuation underscores the immense potential of the electric actuation market. The flexibility, reliability, and efficiency of electric actuation make it the future trend in robotics technology. All humanoid and other types of robots are expected to increasingly adopt electric actuation systems to meet the fast-evolving market demands and technological advancements.

CubeMars Motors: Powering the Future of Robotics

CubeMars is dedicated to providing high-performance motor solutions for robots and automation equipment. Our motors are widely used in various robots, including humanoid robots and robotic dogs, known for their efficiency, reliability, and precision. CubeMars motors utilize advanced design and manufacturing technologies, delivering outstanding performance under high load, high speed, and high precision conditions, meeting stringent application requirements.

In the rapidly developing robotics field, CubeMars will continue to drive motor technology innovation, providing premium motor solutions for industry development. We believe that with the ongoing advancements in electric actuation technology, the robotics industry will witness a brighter future.

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