May 27, 2008

New Robot Walks Like You

A new robot that walks like humans is one of the most advanced of its kind.

Attempts to get robots moving like people typically result in very stilted gaits and limited range of motion.

Human walking is "really very similar to falling forward in a
controlled fashion," researchers at TU Delft in The Netherlands
explained. "Adopting this method replaces the
cautious, rigid way in which robots walk with the more fluid,
energy-efficient movement used by humans."

The new robot, Flame,
weighs about 40 pounds (15 kg) and is 4 feet tall (1.3 meters). Its got
several moving joints attenuated by springs. An inertia sensor (called
an "organ of balance") helps keep the 'bot stable. Seven motors get it
all going.

Flame can move at 1 mph (0.45 meters per second) and deal with steps
down as long as they're not more than one-third of an inch (8 mm).

As it walks, swaying side-to-side like a flat-footed human, Flame
uses its organ of balance to dictate how far apart its feet are placed,
to prevent falls.

Project leader Daan Hobbelen gets his Ph.D. this week for all the
work. Hobbelen said Flame is the most advanced walking robot in the
world, at least in the category of robots which apply the human method
of walking as a starting principle.

Research done to build the robot provides insight into how people
walk, the researchers say, and this could lead to better training and
rehabilitation equipment.