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Running Robot August 10, 2009

Posted by Matt Brown in Bionics, Transhumanism.
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Now this is cool.  As far as I can tell this is the first demonstration of a robot actually running.  That’s even more impressive when you realize just how hard running as a movement actually is.  We take it for granted because most of us can do it fairly well but bipedal running is an incredibly complex movement.   To illustrate this think of two seemingly very different populations: young children and the elderly.  Both groups often suffer from a lack of strength, balance and coordination (though for very different reasons) and as such have similar running characteristics; they run more slowly, take shorter strides, often point there toes outward and generally have a much more inefficient running motion.  Compare this to a healthy adults running motion and it becomes apparent that a certain amount of physical ability is necessary for running to become a practical means of conveyance and the fact that these designers have accomplished that is impressive to say the least.

Now before we all start worrying about Terminators chasing us down it’s important to note that this robot is not at a human’s level when it comes to running.  The flight phase, the time when both feet are off the ground, is pathetically short by our standards and the designers don’t seemed to have solved the problem of counterbalance when the robot runs.  Notice how the torso has to turn side to side in order to keep the robot from falling whereas most humans can perform the same function using only the arms.  Still those are relatively minor problems when you realize how far the technology has already come.  I look forward to the first robot sprinter winning the 100m dash in the 2016 Olympics, or more seriously I look forward to this technology being used in improved prosthetic designs that allow amputees to live better lives.

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