Velociraptor Robot Runs on US Military Funding
CREDIT: Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition
When humans take off running, they don't need to think much to get their legs going and to keep their balance. A robot funded by the U.S. military could achieve the same kind of no-brainer running by harnessing the speedy leg design of an ostrich or its "Jurassic Park" velociraptor ancestor.
The "Fast Runner" robot would stand about 4 feet, 7 inches upon completion, and aims to reach running speeds beyond 20 mph. Its springy leg design is designed to not only efficiently harness the energy from its running motion, but also to sustain running pace and balance without complicated orders from any onboard computer.
Success would enable fast-running robots or robotic exoskeletons to easily move about anywhere ? on the battlefield, across sports fields or over rough terrain during search-and-rescue missions.
"The age of fast-running robots is just getting started," said Johnny Godowski, engineer at the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in Pensacola, Fla. "When we can make robots efficient and lightweight, it'll open up a lot of doors."
Godowski and his colleagues ? led by research scientist Jerry Pratt ? teamed up with MIT researchers to tackle a robot mobility challenge issued by the Pentagon's research agency, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The DARPA-funded project builds upon MIT's earlier "Spring Flamingo" robot, and goes along with other fast-running designs, such as Boston Dynamics' cheetah-inspired robot.
The secret to Fast Runner resides in leg springs that store and reuse energy ? like a suspension system ? so that it doesn't require much new energy to keep going, said Ionut Olaru, a mechanical engineer at the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition. Each lightweight leg only needs one motor as a way to start or stop the running motions.
Today's walking or running robots need careful computer control to guide their steps. But Fast Runner's mechanical design means that it can essentially run or walk without thinking, said Sebastien Cotton, a research scientist at the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition.
"In order to get current robots working or running, you need to develop a specific program, which is complicated," Cotton told InnovationNewsDaily. "Our goal is to use the minimum amount of control and embed mechanical intelligence directly into the leg design, leaving the need for control to special maneuvers."
Fast Runner's efficient and fluid mobility based on ostrichlike running could lead to universal humanoid robots , Godowski said. He and his colleagues also want to create an exoskeleton that will enable humans to run around faster.
"An ostrich is running even faster than a kangaroo that can bounce higher," Godowski explained. "It's doing something special in nature ? high-speed oscillation ? rather than jumping higher. With a velociraptor, the leg design moves very similarly."
Simulations show that Fast Runner can hit 20 mph from a dead stop in less than 15 seconds. The group plans to create a working prototype leg by Feb. 2012, build a full robot capable of sprinting in a straight line by February 2013, and upgrade to a robot capable of moving in any direction the following year.
Fast Runner may even include a long dinosaur tail for balance someday, Godowski said. For now, he encouraged paleontologists to download the project's open source simulation to compare the ostrich-style running with dinosaur running.