Now Robots Can Walk... Howz That?


Written on Sunday, May 25, 2008 by Gemini

In a world first, researcher builds a robot that moves like a human; may help create rehabilitation techniques for those who can’t walk.

In the world of science fiction movies, robots move around with ease as they walk, run and jump, just like humans. However, in reality, getting an automaton to emulate man’s gait is a very complex activity.

Now, researcher Daan Hobbelen of Netherland-based Delft University of Technology (TU DelfT) has developed a new, highly-advanced walking robot: Flame. This type of research, for which Hobbelen will receive his PhD, is important as it provides insight into how people walk. “This research could help people with walking difficulties through improved diagnoses, training and rehabilitation equipment,” Hobbelen notes in his study.

Energy Efficient & Stable

If you try to teach a robot to walk, you will discover just how complex an activity it is, the researcher says. While walking robots have been around since the 1970s, there are two strategies applied for them. The first derives from the world of industrial robots, in which everything is fixed in routines, as is the case with factory robots. Although this approach can produce excellent results, there are major restrictions with regard to cost, energy consumption and flexibility.

The other method for constructing walking robots – which Hobbelen used – examines the way humans walk. This is really very similar to falling forward in a controlled fashion. Adopting this method replaces the cautious, rigid way in which robots walk with the more fluid, energy-efficient movement used by humans.

What makes Hobbelen’s research unique is that this is the first time a robot has been demonstrated to be both energy-efficient and highly stable. Hobbelen’s breakthrough came in inventing a suitable method for measuring the stability of the way people walk. This is a remarkable feat, as ‘falling forward’ is traditionally viewed as an unstable movement.

Next, he built a robot with which could demonstrate the improved performance: Flame.

Flame contains seven motors, an organ of balance and various algorithms which ensure its high level of stability. For instance, the robot can apply the information provided by its organ of balance to place its feet slightly further apart, in order to prevent a potential fall. “Flame is the most advanced walking robot in the world, at least in the category of robots which apply the human method of walking as a starting principle,” Hobbelen says.

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