These virtual obstacle courses help real robots learn to walk

A clip from the simulation where virtual robots learn to climb steps.

An army of more than 4,000 marching doglike robots is a vaguely menacing sight, even in a simulation. But it may point the way for machines to learn new tricks.

The virtual robot army was developed by researchers from ETH Zurich in Switzerland and chipmaker Nvidia. They used the wandering bots to train an algorithm that was then used to control the legs of a real-world robot.

In the simulation, the machines—called ANYmals—confront challenges like slopes, steps, and steep drops in a virtual landscape. Each time a robot learned to navigate a challenge, the researchers presented a harder one, nudging the control algorithm to be more sophisticated.

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