Mobile robots have faced a challenge. Working outside of controlled environments, such as factories or warehouses, getting around can be tricky for a robot. Most commercially available kit either runs on fixed rails or comes equipped with combinations of wheels or tracks.

While there have been some very clever applications and adaptations allowing devices to get about pretty well, rough terrain and other difficult environments have remained pretty much out of bounds. What they really needed was legs.

The robotics team at the Italian Institute of Technology are the latest group to tackle the challenges of building a walking robot with the requisite level of robustness and appear to have had more success than some predecessors.

The HyQ2Max is a four-legged mechanical beast that has an animal like posture. It’s built tough too, so should be able to work in environments where falling objects could be a risk. Delicate parts such as sensors are protected by the structure of the body.

“Much like a cat or a goat that is very agile on rough terrain, this robot can in the future help in very unstructured environments, for example after an earthquake, after a tsunami or after a house has collapsed for other reasons,” said Claudio Semini, who is leading the research, speaking to Reuters.

Crucially, if the robot is knocked over, it can get back up on its feet, an ability which could significantly boost its potential for applications outside the research lab. Next on the research team’s wish list is a pair of arms, which will add the ability to manipulate objects to the robot’s skill set.