Professor Jessy Grizzle of the University of Michigan likes to make things walk. Robot things, that is. His newest bipedal bionic behemoth is named MABEL, and she's able to walk quickly, in a circle, and over rough terrain with a gait that looks surprisingly human. Oh, and she doesn't use a camera.
That's right. While previous robot-walking technology has always depended on cameras to relay information to the 'bots control center in order to allow height and movement speed corrections, Grizzle's robot was simply programmed with higher leg swings, allowing it clear higher obstacles and then respond accordingly. Sound simple? Not so much.
MABEL carries all of her motors in her torso, leaving her legs free for springs that act like tendons in the human body, allowing energy to be stored and released. This makes her legs far lighter than Grizzle's last robot, RABBIT, which he intended to make run. Sadly, the motors in RABBIT's legs meant it could only run a few steps before petering out, much like a fat man running for the quick-moving ice cream truck on his block. Those ice cream truck drivers are cruel and heartless bastards.
MABEL, thanks to her lighter legs and higher step, was able to walk over increasing obstacle heights up to 2.5 inches, when the load on her right leg exceeded the maximum tolerance, causing a built-in fuse to blow in order to stop her movement and protect her hips.
As evidenced by the video, the fall makes it look like all of her Olympic dreams have been shattered, but apparently it was by design. Also seen in the video is that her gait actually looks pretty good. Creepy and robotic, but a significant step forward in the robots-walking-like humans field.
The reason for this obsession with making our metallic friends look and walk like us isn't simply limited to applications in the adult industry, believe it or not. Since approximately 70% of the earth's land surface is not navigable by four-wheeled vehicles, any ground-based robotic rescue or industry operation in these areas would of necessity have to be bipedal. Even in suburban homes, there are constant changes in floor pitch, coupled with obstacles strewn about randomly on the ground. A walking robot needs to be able to adapt to any terrain, from harsh mountain landscapes to the equally rugged landscape of a house with four children.
While this isn't Grizzle's first test with MABEL, it was her first real attempt at increasingly rough ground. Ideally, says Grizzle, MABEL will walk over heights as tall as 7.5 inches with no difficulty, and by Christmas of 2010, he hopes to have her jogging.
We'd recommend she stretch first, and start with only a few miles. We can only imagine the physical therapy bills if pulls a nano-hamstring or twists a titanium ankle.