Washington: Scientists have developed new technology that will enable legged robots to walk like humans do, an advance that could allow the machines to work in the armed forces, save lives as firefighters or do household chores.
Researchers at Oregon State University said that they have achieved the most realistic robotic implementation of human walking dynamics that has ever been done, which may ultimately allow human-like versatility and performance.
The system is based on a concept called "spring-mass" walking that combines passive dynamics of a mechanical system with computer control.
It provides the ability to blindly react to rough terrain, maintain balance, retain an efficiency of motion and essentially walk like humans do.
As such, this approach to robots that can walk and run like humans opens the door to entire new industries, jobs and mechanised systems that do not exist today, researchers said.
OSU researchers have been studying human and animal walking and running to learn how animals achieve a fluidity of motion with a high degree of energy efficiency.
Animals combine a sensory input from nerves, vision, muscles and tendons to create locomotion that researchers have now translated into a working robotic system.
The system is also efficient. Studies done with their ATRIAS robot model, which incorporates the spring-mass theory, showed that it's three times more energy-efficient than any other human-sized bipedal robots.
"We've basically demonstrated the fundamental science of how humans walk," said Jonathan Hurst, professor at OSU.
"Other robotic approaches may have legs and motion, but don't really capture the underlying physics. We're convinced this is the approach on which the most successful legged robots will work.
"It retains the substance and science of legged animal locomotion, and animals demonstrate performance that far exceeds any other approach we've seen," he said.
The current technology, Hurst said, is still a crude illustration of what the future may hold. When further refined and perfected, walking and running robots may work in the armed forces, save lives as firefighters, and play new roles in factories or do ordinary household chores.
Aspects of the locomotion technology may also assist people with disabilities, the researchers said.
ATRIAS, the human-sized robot most recently created at OSU, 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 take impacts and retain its balance. It can walk over rough and bumpy terrain.
Researchers said that the technology has the potential to enhance legged robots to ultimately match the efficiency, agility and robustness of animals over a wide variety of terrain.
The study was published in the journal IEEE Transactions on Robotics.