ANN ARBOR, Mich.—A robot in a University of Michigan lab can run like a human—a feat that represents the height of agility and efficiency for a two-legged machine. With a peak pace of 6.8 miles per hour, MABEL is believed to be the world's fastest bipedal robot with knees.
Proud: The University of Michigan team with MABEL the running robot
Professor Jessy Grizzle, from the University of Michigan, where MABEL was built, also stressed how useful human-like robots could be.
He said: ‘The robotics community has been trying to come up with machines that can go places where humans can go, so a human morphology is important.
‘If you would like to send in robots to search for people when a house is on fire, it probably needs to be able to go up and down stairs, step over the baby’s toys on the floor and manoeuvre in an environment where wheels and tracks may not be appropriate.’
It’s taken the researchers three years to get MABEL up and running to her current top speed and she needs the aid of a stabilising boom, but she still represents a huge step forward for robot-kind.
‘It's stunning,’ Professor Grizzle adds. ‘I have never seen a machine doing a motion like this.’
Research objectives: MABEL was designed to be both a robust walker and a fast runner. It pushes the state of the art in bipedal mechanism design and provides an opportunity for effective control design methodology to maximize the robot's energy efficiency, speed, and stability. Our specific objectives are to demonstrate: energy efficient walking on flat ground; the ability to walk over uneven terrain; and running. All of this should be accomplished with provably correct feedback laws. The emphasis on energy efficiency is because, for a biped to be able to operate in the real world for an extended period of time, it must carry its own power and use that power as economically as possible. The ability to walk on uneven ground will allow bipeds to function out of the laboratory. The ability to run is in part for fun and in part to demonstrate dynamic balance in an extremely challenging situation. The running achieved with current bipeds is very unsatisfactory. Just take a look at their gaits and you'll see what we mean. Finally, the emphasis on provably correct feedback laws is because we are attempting to remove a lot of the trial and error from the process of designing control algorithms for bipedal robots. Our objective is to design controllers on the basis of models and have the controllers work on the associated hardware. It's a big challenge! Maybe the biggest one in the list.