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Xiaobin Xiong
February 8, 2023

Focus on new faculty: Xiaobin Xiong wants to help robots walk off the beaten path

Written By: Adam Malecek


Moving from California to Wisconsin, Xiaobin Xiong was particularly excited to live in an area with snowy winters—although not necessarily because he loves the season.

Rather, he says Wisconsin winters will provide an ideal setting for studying how robots with legs can traverse complex, unstructured environments—such as walking on snow and ice.

His research focuses on how two- and four-legged robots move, and includes dynamic motion planning and feedback control. To study their locomotion, he uses a variety of techniques from dynamics modeling, control theory, numerical optimization and data-driven approximations.

Xiong’s goal is to design motion algorithms that enable robots to walk efficiently and dynamically in a variety of real-world environments.

“It’s important to study bipedal robots because the built environment we’ve created is designed for humans, who are bipeds,” says Xiong, who joined the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Mechanical Engineering as an assistant professor in January 2023 and directs the Wisconsin Expeditious Legged Locomotion (WELL) lab. “So designing and building bipedal robots that can work in human environments will make these robots more useful. This research can also increase understanding of bipedal locomotion, which can help in developing better robotic assistive devices like exoskeletons and prosthetics for people.”

In addition, Xiong says that enabling robots to walk on complex terrains, such as sand, gravel, snow and ice, could make them useful for conducting search-and-rescue operations and even exploring other planets, where walking robots could reach areas that rovers can’t.

Xiong earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Tongji University, Shanghai, China, and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Northwestern University, where his research focused on robotic manipulation. He began his PhD at Georgia Tech, researching locomotion on granular terrain, and then transferred to the California Institute of Technology, where he joined Professor Aaron Ames’ Advanced Mechanical Bipedal Experimental Robotics (AMBER) Lab. In the AMBER Lab, he worked on nonlinear control and bipedal locomotion with a robot called Cassie, which resembles a pair of robotic ostrich-like legs.

“For my PhD work, I designed the first primary algorithms for bipedal locomotion in the robot Cassie, and those algorithms turned out to be very efficient, robust and versatile,” he says.

After earning his PhD, he worked as a postdoctoral researcher in the same lab prior to joining UW-Madison.

“I see a very strong effort in hiring robotics faculty in the mechanical engineering department at UW-Madison, so I think this presents a great opportunity,” Xiong says. “There are many awesome faculty here who I am excited to collaborate with, such as faculty working in the biomechanics area and developing prosthetics, and experts in data-driven control, machine learning and modeling complex environments.”

Featured image caption: Xiaobin Xiong. Credit: Joel Hallberg.