A team of researchers from the US and Germany has now found a way to make robots walk and run just as we do, thereby opening the doors for them to be deployed in the armed forces and in other services in the future.
"We have basically demonstrated the fundamental science of how humans walk," said one of the researchers Jonathan Hurst, professor Oregon State University (OSU) in the US. "Other robotic approaches may have legs and motion, but do not really capture the underlying physics," he said.
The system is based on a concept called "spring-mass" walking that was theorised less than a decade ago, and combines passive dynamics of a mechanical system with computer control. It provides the ability to blindly react to rough terrain, maintain balance, retain an efficiency of motion and essentially walk like humans do.
The robots being constructed at OSU were designed to mimic this "spring-legged" action of bipedal animals. "I am confident that this is the future of legged robotic locomotion," Hurst said. ATRIAS, the human-sized robot most recently created at OSU, can take impacts and retain its balance.
The robot can walk over rough and bumpy terrain, the researchers said. The technologies developed at OSU have evolved from intense studies of both human and animal walking and running, to learn how animals achieve a fluidity of motion with a high degree of energy efficiency.
Animals combine a sensory input from nerves, vision, muscles and tendons to create locomotion that researchers have now translated into a working robotic system. The current technology, Hurst said, is still a crude illustration of what the future may hold. When further refined and perfected, walking and running robots may work in the armed forces.
As fire fighters they may charge upstairs in burning buildings to save lives. They could play new roles in factories or do ordinary household chores. Aspects of the locomotion technology may also assist people with disabilities, the researchers said. The findings appeared in the journal IEEE Transactions on Robotics.