Fastest Running Robot Replicates Human Sprinting
CREDIT: University of Michigan
Our future robotic overlords can fly, swim and roll tirelessly but have more trouble running on two legs. Now there's a challenger, called the fastest robot with knees, that is closing in on humans' bipedal mastery.
The MABEL robot recently hit a top running speed of 6.8 mph (11 kilometers per hour) far behind top human speeds of nearly 28 mph (45 kph), but comparable to the average jogger. That could pave the way for robotic soldiers or rescuers capable of going wherever humans can go.
"If you would like to send in robots to search for people when a house is on fire, it probably needs to be able to go up and down stairs, step over the baby's toys on the floor, and maneuver in an environment where wheels and tracks may not be appropriate," said Jessy Grizzle, an electrical engineer at the University of Michigan who has been working to improve MABEL's performance.
A smoother running gait would open up a world of robotic applications. For instance, it could power exoskeletons that help people who rely on wheelchairs to walk again, or give human soldiers and rescuers super-human abilities to run and leap.
Robots capable of running like humans might do away with roads (that is, if flying cars already haven't). Humans could simply climb into their multi-legged cars and ride off to their next destination.
"Imagine a future where you don't have to first clear a path and build roads before a vehicle could move around," said Koushil Sreenath, a University of Michigan doctoral student who is collaborating with Grizzle. Instead, Sreenath said, there would be "a class of running machines like animals that could transport you around with no roads but with a smooth and efficient ride."
MABEL was built in 2008, but new computer algorithms have given the robot better balance. Its heavy torso and light, springy legs manage a human-like gait that keeps it in the air for 40 percent of each stride. By contrast, other running robots take a speed-walking approach so that both feet are off the ground for less than 10 percent of each step.
MABEL (for "Michigan Anthropomorphic Biped with Electric Legs") started by walking over flat surfaces but then progressed to uneven ground. Its first real jog took place in late July.
"It's stunning," Grizzle said. "I have never seen a machine doing a motion like this."