Tencent robot dog navigates plum blossom pile like Kung Fu master

Amazing footage shows Tencent’s new robot dog ‘Jamoca’ delicately stepping across ‘plum blossom piles’ used to teach balance in Kung Fu

  • Robot dog made by Chinese firm Tencent walks across poles at different heights
  • Called Jamoca, the pooch uses its camera to perceive a hazardous environment
  • Jamoca is mostly being used for scientific research experiments within the lab

A four-legged robot dog created by Chinese technology company Tencent has the balance of a King Fu master, new video footage shows.

Jamoca, which has been created by Tencent’s Robotics X Lab, can walk across a set of uneven poles spaced randomly apart, like ‘plum blossom piles’ used in Kung Fu to teach better balance. 

It uses a front-facing camera and visual modelling to accurately perceive its  environment and achieve ‘robust eye and foot calibration’. 

The robot, which is more than three feet in length and weighs 70kg, can walk, run, trot diagonally and jump just like a real dog. 

Compared with other four-legged robots, including those developed by US firm Boston Dynamics, Jamoca can navigate a course where there are hazardous gaps that can lead to a fall and operate at a higher altitude. 

According to Beijing-based technology media platform Jiqizhixin, the dog is still in its experimental stages. 

‘At this stage, Jamoca is mainly used for internal scientific research experiments in the laboratory,’ Jiqizhixin reported. 

‘Its online environment perception, optimal motion planning and real-time motion control capabilities will help Tencent’s other robot products to better adapt to the complex real-world environment in the future.’ 

Before walking the plum blossom piles formed of several metal cylinders, Jamoca had to climb a step 23 inches (60cm) high and at a 20-degree inclined angle. 

After climbing the stairs it reached the cylinders, each with a diameter of around 7.8 inches (20cm), which were randomly spaced apart. 

The spacing between the cylinders was irregular, ranging from 7.8 inches to just under 20 inches (20-50cm). 

Pictured, a ‘plum blossom pile’ or quincuncial pile used in Kung Fu to help teach better balance

Meet Jamoca, the robot dog newly released by Tencent’s Robotics X Lab. The robot can walk, run and jump as well as this trick with plum blossom piles – which are used by those learning Kung Fu to teach better balance

Jamoca must be able to understand the arrangement (position and height) of the cylinder piles, choose the best footing position, while walking steadily and accurately

But to make it even more difficult, the cylinders were at different heights meaning Jamoca had to have its four legs adjusted at various angles to keep its balance. 

‘Under this combined challenge, Jamoca must understand the arrangement (position and height) of the plum blossom piles, choose the best footing point and route, and walk steadily and accurately,’ said Jiqizhixin.   

Jamoca estimates the position and posture of the cylinders and the steps it must take in real time, with a positioning error of less than 0.3 of an inch. 

It then conducts a 10 millisecond-level online planning based on the surrounding environment to ensure the safest, fastest and most labour-saving route. 

Tencent’s Robotics X laboratory is particular focused on autonomous characteristics of robots such as consciousness and judgement, according to Jiqizhixin. 

‘The purpose is to realise autonomous judgements, autonomous decision-making and complete tasks of robots in a dynamic environment with great uncertainty,’ the site reports.  

The robot dog uses a front-facing camera and visual modelling to accurately perceive its environment and achieve robust eye and foot calibration

Screenshot from the video, showing the cylinders at different heights to make it more difficult for Jamoca to navigate

Tencent’s Robotics X laboratory ‘pays more attention to the study of autonomous characteristics of robots’ with consciousness and judgement

Jamoca understands the arrangement (position and height) of the cylinders and choose the best footing position, while walking steadily and accurately

Jamoca is highly reminiscent of Spot, the stealthy four-legged robot dog created by Boston Dynamics, which is already being used by Elon Musk’s firm SpaceX to sniff around explosion test sites. 

Suited for indoor or outdoor use, Spot can map its environment, sense and avoid obstacles, climb stairs and open doors. 

Spot has been under development by highly secretive US firm Boston Dynamics for years and, unlike Jamoca, is available to purchase – for just under $75,000 (around £55,800).    

Spot was announced by Boston Dynamics back in 2016 and underwent various trials before being released commercially on June 17 this year. 

As part of a pilot phase last year, Boston Dynamics leased 150 Spot robots to domestic and businesses and research facilities to ‘document construction progress, monitor remote or hazardous environments and provide situational awareness’.  

Singapore also employed Spot to roam parks, broadcasting a message reminding pedestrians to keep their distance during the coronavirus outbreak.

Spot, the quadruped robot has been developed by Boston Dynamics. Cognite and Aker BP have tested Spot’s mobility in simulated oil and gas environments to ensure that it can access locations in these facilities too difficult to access through traditional automation

Black Mirror’s ‘Metalhead’ was the fifth episode of the fourth season that was filmed entirely in black and white

It’s also been used to herd sheep on a New Zealand farm at speeds of up to three miles an hour, while Massachusetts Police also used the dog to sniff out bombs as part of a three-month trial in return for feedback. 

Boston Dynamics technology is probably best known for inspiring a standout episode of Charlie Brooker’s dystopian Netflix series ‘Black Mirror’. 

In the 2017 episode, called ‘Metalhead’, people in the near future flee from an army of robotic dogs that ruthlessly hunt down humans. 


Boston Dynamics first showed off SpotMini, the most advanced robot dog ever created, in a video posted in November 2017.

The firm, best known for Atlas, its 5 foot 9 (1.7 metre) humanoid robot, has revealed a new ‘lightweight’ version of its robot Spot Mini.

The robotic canine was shown trotting around a yard, with the promise that more information from the notoriously secretive firm is ‘coming soon’.

‘SpotMini is a small four-legged robot that comfortably fits in an office or home’ the firm says on its website.

It weighs 25 kg (55 lb), or 30 kg (66 lb) when you include the robotic arm.

SpotMini is all-electric and can go for about 90 minutes on a charge, depending on what it is doing, the firm says, boasting ‘SpotMini is the quietest robot we have built.’ 

SpotMini was first unveiled in 2016, and a previous version of the mini version of spot with a strange extendable neck has been shown off helping around the house. 

In the firm’s previous video, the robot is shown walking out of the firm’s HQ and into what appears to be a home.

There, it helps load a dishwasher and carries a can to the trash.

It also at one point encounters a dropped banana skin and falls dramatically – but uses its extendable neck to push itself back up. 

‘SpotMini is one of the quietest robots we have ever built, the firm says, due to its electric motors.

‘It has a variety of sensors, including depth cameras, a solid state gyro (IMU) and proprioception sensors in the limbs. 

‘These sensors help with navigation and mobile manipulation. 

‘SpotMini performs some tasks autonomously, but often uses a human for high-level guidance.’ 

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