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New technology enables robots to walk upright like people

A distinguishing feature of human beings is our ability to walk upright on two hind legs. However, given the recent developments in technology, it seems like our previously immobile machine counterparts have managed to catch up. Scientists have now developed a new technology that will allow robots to walk like people do, enabling them to fullfil occupations thought to be only fit for man.

Researchers from Oregon State University (OSU) claim they have developed the most realistic robotic implementation of walking dynamics ever achieved. The team states that it will revolutionize the performance and flexibility of robots in an unprecedented way.

The system is based upon a concept known as mass-spring, which combines the passive dynamics of a physical system with computer control. It enables the robot to react to its surrounding environment, maintain balance and walk upright.[1]

A stepping stone of an achievement

This is a stepping stone of an achievement in more ways than one. Robots that can walk and run like people will unlock new industries and job opportunities, according to the researchers.[1]

The report was published in IEEE Transactions on Robotics by engineers from OSU and Germany. The researchers’ claims have been backed up by the National Science Foundation, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Human Frontier Science Program.

The technology is based upon intense studies about how humans and animals walk. In particular, the researchers have studied animals to understand how living organisms combine the fluidity of motion with energy efficiency. The researchers were able to achieve this by projecting how animals produce locomotion through a network of sensory inputs into a functioning robotic system.

The system works remarkably well. The ATRIAS robot model, which uses the mass-spring theory, was three times more energy efficient than any human-sized bipedal robot.

“I’m confident that this is the future of legged robotic locomotion,” said Jonathan Hurst, an OSU professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Dynamic Robotics Laboratory in the OSU College of Engineering.[2]

“We’ve basically demonstrated the fundamental science of how humans walk,” he told sources.[2]

“Other robotic approaches may have legs and motion, but don’t really capture the underlying physics,” he said. “We’re convinced this is the approach on which the most successful legged robots will work. It retains the substance and science of legged animal locomotion, and animals demonstrate performance that far exceeds any other approach we’ve seen. This is the way to go.”(2)

Robots to take over workforce, predicts researcher

Once the technology has been completely polished, Hurst believes it will pave the way for robots to join the work and armed forces. As firefighters, robots could charge upstairs in a burning building to save lives. They could also fulfill the roles of factory workers and maids.

“Robots are already used for gait training, and we see the first commercial exoskeletons on the market,” said Daniel Renjewski, the lead author on the study with the Technische Universitat Munchen.[2]

“However, only now do we have an idea how human-like walking works in a robot. This enables us to build an entirely new class of wearable robots and prostheses that could allow the user to regain a natural walking gait.”[2]

There are almost no limits to this technology, the researchers said.[2]

“It will be some time, but we think legged robots will enable integration of robots into our daily lives,” Hurst said. “We know it is possible, based on the example of animals. So it’s inevitable that we will solve the problem with robots. This could become as big as the automotive industry.”[2]

Check out the technology in action in the video below:




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