Washington: Scientists have developed a new robot – with human sized feet laced up in a pair of sneakers – that closely imitates the walking motion of humans, making it more energy-efficient and better at navigating uneven terrain.
The bipedal robot steps with a heel-toe motion that copies human locomotion more closely than flat-footed robot walkers can, according to Christian Hubicki, a postdoctoral fellow at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech).
The humanoid robot DURUS was designed collaboratively by the research nonprofit SRI International and Georgia Tech’s Advanced Mechanical Bipedal Experimental Robotics (AMBER) Lab.
An earlier DURUS design was modified to accommodate the new manner of walking. Robots that walk on two legs typically have ‘feet’ that are large and flat, to provide a more stable platform, Mr Hubicki told Live Science. The algorithms that dictate a robot’s forward momentum typically keep those big feet flat on the ground when pushing off, to minimise the risk that the bot will tip over.
While a flat-footed walker might perform well on a treadmill, uneven terrain in the real world could stop a robot in its tracks. The researchers designed a new algorithm that works to keep a robot upright and moving forward even if only parts of the foot are engaged.
They tested DURUS using a modified foot with an arch; every step began with the heel making contact and then rolling to the ball of the foot to push off from the ground, said Mr Hubicki. Springs installed by the robot’s ankles act like tendons.
DURUS’ feet are about the same size as human feet – about half as long as the feet on the original model. To enhance the similarity, researchers also gave it pair of sneakers. The new algorithm may even have applications beyond robotics, Mr Hubicki added. It could be used to improve the design of prosthetics and exoskeletons to help people who use assistance to get around.