Bipedal robot learns to run

2019-03-03 08:12:02

By Will Knight The latest version of Honda’s humanoid robot Asimo can perform several new tricks thanks to a hardware overhaul. In a demonstration in Japan, the robot impressed onlookers by showing off the ability to run for the first time. A short video released by the Japanese car manufacturer shows Asimo jogging along. Its gait is rather comical and resembles that of a person trying to creep up quietly. The robot can be said to be running because during each stride both its feet are in the air at the same time. Asimo would not be able to match a human in a sprint, however. The robot is only capable of a restrained 3 km per hour. Running on two legs is a substantial technical challenge for roboticists because rapidly moving each leg easily upsets a robot’s balance. To deal with this problem, Asimo’s designers installed two new joints with their own balance sensors in the robot’s hips. These allow it make adjustments as it runs to prevent slipping or falling over. New joints in Asimo’s hands also make the robot more dexterous and another in its neck allows it to tilt its head to one side. “Running is really about understanding dynamics,” says Henrik Hautop Lund, at the Maersk Mc-Kinney Moller Institute for Production Technology in Denmark. “It’s really a major challenge.” Sony’s Qrio robot was the first biped robot to demonstrate the ability to run, in December 2003. This robot, a humanoid much smaller than Asimo, is also capable of mimicking human dance manoeuvres with remarkable skill. Walking on two legs has some advantages over wheeled locomotion. For example, legs would allow a robot to negotiate unpredictable terrain more easily. Another advantage would be that two-legged humanoid robots could navigate the same environment as humans, increasing their usefulness. But many hurdles remain in the way of developing such robots. “The big thing we’re still missing is real-time adaptability” to changing conditions, such as slopes, obstacles or carrying a load, says Sethu Vijayakumar, a robotics researcher at University of Edinburgh, UK. “We’re still relatively far away in terms of robustness, control and sensing.” Robert Richardson, at Manchester University, UK, adds that robots are currently limited in so many ways in terms of usefulness that making them run is not really the top priority. “In the short term it’s not that useful,