A robot that mimics human walking dynamics promises a revolution in robotic locomotion.
Developed by a team of engineers from Oregon State University, the USA, the robot can spontaneously react to rough terrain, maintain balance and move just as efficiently as humans do.
Based on the so called ‘spring-mass’ concept, the robot's motion system combines the passive dynamics of a mechanical system with computer control.
“I’m confident that this is the future of legged robotic locomotion,” said Jonathan Hurst, a professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Dynamic Robotics Laboratory in the Oregon State University's (OSU) College of Engineering.
“We’ve basically demonstrated the fundamental science of how humans walk. Other robotic approaches may have legs and motion, but don’t really capture the underlying physics.”
The researchers studied extensively human as well as animal locomotion to learn how to achieve maximum fluidity and energy efficiency. Similarly to animals that use inputs from their senses to adjust the way they use their muscles, limbs and joints in response to their environment, the robot had to be equipped with a sophisticated control system.
The team fine-tuned the system using their human-sized ATRIAS robot model. Comparing the performance of their robot with other bi-pedal robots, the researchers found their robot was three times more energy-efficient.
The ATRIAS robot has six electric motors powered by a lithium polymer battery about the size of a half-gallon of milk, which is substantially smaller than the power packs of some other mobile robots. It can handle impacts and retain its balance even in a very rough terrain.
The engineers hope that eventually they would be able to perfect the concept so that it would match the efficiency, agility and robustness of animals.
“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.”
The team believes that by simulating the way humans move, robots can achieve maximum versatility and optimum performance that will facilitate the proliferation of robotics into entirely new industries.
In future, walking and robots could fight alongside soldiers in armed forces or help fire fighters and rescuers to save lives.