Bipedal Bots Star at AAAS Media Briefing
Novel, energy frugal robots walk like we do
At a Feb. 17 media briefing during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), members of three independent research teams jointly unveiled a new breed of powered, energy efficient, two-legged robots with a surprisingly human gait.
The new technologies are described in the Feb. 18 issue of the journal Science.
Researchers from Cornell University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and their colleagues from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, displayed video footage of all three bipedal robots and demonstrate the biped developed at MIT.
"These innovations are a platform upon which others will build," says Michael Foster, an expert on computer and information science and engineering and one of the NSF managers who oversaw the research. "This is the foundation for what we may see in robotic control in the future."
By applying concepts rooted in "passive-dynamic walkers"—devices that can walk down a gentle slope powered only by the pull of gravity—the engineers have crafted robots like the Cornell biped that walk on level ground using one-half the wattage of a standard, compact fluorescent light bulb.
"The biped walking mechanism in robots is limited by on-board battery power," says Junku Yuh, NSF expert on intelligent systems, who also oversaw the research. "The Cornell team's passive mechanism helps greatly reduce the power requirement. Their work is very innovative."
Representing fundamental developments in computer and mechanical control, the robots are helping researchers understand bipedal motion and revealing processes that underlie human locomotion and motor learning. Applications are already on the horizon, with one researcher exploring how the new robotics can aid development of increasingly energy-efficient prosthetic devices.
"This is a perfect example of a single concept yielding benefits in a variety of fields, including medicine," says NSF program officer Gil Devey, an NSF expert on disabilities research.
The MIT walker's passive-dynamic design provides a new way to study motor learning. The robot can teach itself to walk in as little as 10 minutes, adapting to terrain as it moves.
"This project is about the fundamentals of control," says Foster. "The researchers have combined our developing knowledge of computerized control with mechanical principles that the world provides for us and shown that we can integrate the two."
All three robots verify a long-held hypothesis that suggests motors can substitute for gravity in passive-dynamic walking devices. A slope is not required, only careful engineering.
Reporters interested in attending the briefing should go to the Taft Room, Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, Washington, D.C. Please arrive no later than 9:45 am to obtain a badge for admittance. Be prepared to show a photo ID and press credentials.
A companion press release from Cornell University can be found at: http://www.news.cornell.edu/releases/Feb05/AAAS.Ruina.bipedal
A companion press release from MIT, and additional images, can be found at: http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/index.html
Co-authors for the paper, "Efficient bipedal robots based on passive-dynamic walkers," are Steve Collins, Mechanical Engineering, University of Michigan; Andy Ruina, Theoretical and Applied Mechanics, Cornell University; Russ Tedrake, Brain and Cognitive Sciences, MIT; and Martijn Wisse, Mechanical
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2016, its budget is $7.5 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 48,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $626 million in professional and service contracts yearly.
Useful NSF Web Sites: