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Athlete Robot Learning to Run Like Human

Can this robot run less like Asimo and more like Usaim Bolt?

2 min read
Athlete Robot Learning to Run Like Human

athlete robot

Japanese researcher Ryuma Niiyama wants to build a biped robot that runs.

But not like Asimo, whose running gait is a bit, well, mechanical.

Niiyama wants a robot with the vigor and agility of a human sprinter.

To do that, he's building a legged bot that mimics our musculoskeletal system.

He calls his robot Athlete. Each leg has seven sets of artificial muscles. The sets, each with one to six pneumatic actuators, correspond to muscles in the human body -- gluteus maximus, adductor, hamstring, and so forth [see diagram below].

To simplify things a bit, the robot uses prosthetic blades, of the type that double amputees use to run.

And to add a human touch, Niiyama makes the robot wear a pair of black shorts.

Human runners with prosthetic feet, like South African paralympic runner Oscar Pistorius, nicknamed the "Blade Runner," "give me great inspiration," Niiyama tells me.

The robot has touch sensors on each foot and an inertial measurement unit on the torso for detecting the body's orientation.

Niiyama developed the robot as a PhD candidate at the Department of Mechano-Informatics of the University of Tokyo with colleague Satoshi Nishikawa, under the supervision of their advisor, Professor Yasuo Kuniyoshi.

They presented their project at the IEEE Humanoids 2010 conference in Nashville, Tenn., last week.

The researchers are now teaching Athlete to run. They programmed the robot to activate its artificial muscles with the same timing and pattern of a person's muscles during running.

athlete robot

Niiyama, who has since become a post-doc at MIT's Robot Locomotion Group in Cambridge, Mass., says they're trying to better understand how we control our muscles during a challenging task like running.

Previously, he studied another complex motion, jumping, by developing a bipedal hopping robot called Mowgli.

Traditional humanoid robots like Asimo run by changing the angle of their joints. Their legs are rigid, powered by motors coupled to reduction gears. In other words, they run like robots.

People, as well as animals, don't keep track of the position of their joints -- we use our viscoelastic muscles and tendons to bounce against the ground, propelling our bodies forward while maintaining balance.

Athlete can take three, sometimes five steps, moving at about 1.2 meters per second. Then it falls. Watch:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/v/bXqUjiNw8fo?fs=1&hl=en_US expand=1]

It's a short dash, but the researchers are optimistic. They plan to fine tune the artificial muscles and improve the feedback control system. And then hopefully move their tests to a real running track.

Images: Ryuma Niiyama

The Conversation (0)

The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
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A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof
DarkGray

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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