This robot will out-walk and out-run you one day

Human-like “spring-mass” design may lead to walking-running robot soldiers, fire fighters, factory workers, and home servants of the near future.
October 29, 2015

A walk in the park. Oregon State University engineers have successfully field-tested their walking robot, ATRIAS. (credit: Oregon State University)

Imagine robots that can walk and run like humans — or better than humans. Engineers at Oregon State University (OSU) and Technische Universitat Munchen may have achieved a major step in that direction with their “spring-mass” implementation of human and animal walking dynamics, allowing robots to maintain balance and efficiency of motion in difficult environments.

Studies done with OSU’s ATRIAS robot model, which incorporates the spring-mass theory, show that it’s three times more energy-efficient than any other human-sized bipedal robots.

“I’m confident that this is the future of legged robotic locomotion,” said Jonathan Hurst, an OSU professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Dynamic Robotics Laboratory in the OSU College of Engineering. “We’ve basically demonstrated the fundamental science of how humans walk,” he said.

When further refined and perfected, walking and running robots may work in the armed forces, as fire fighters, in factories or doing ordinary household chores, he said. “This could become as big as the automotive industry,” Hurst added.

Wearable robots and prostheses too

Aspects of the locomotion technology may also assist people with disabilities, said Daniel Renjewski with the Technische Universitat Munchen, the lead author on the study published in IEEE Transactions on Robotics. “Robots are already used for gait training, and we see the first commercial exoskeletons on the market,” he said. “This enables us to build an entirely new class of wearable robots and prostheses that could allow the user to regain a natural walking gait.”

Topology and key technical features of the ATRIAS robot. ATRIAS has six electric motors powered by a lithium polymer battery. It can take impacts and retain its balance and walk over rough and bumpy terrain. Power electronics, batteries, and control computer are located inside the trunk. (credit: Daniel Renjewski et al./IEEE Transactions on Robotics)

In continued research, work will be done to improve steering, efficiency, leg configuration, inertial actuation, robust operation, external sensing, transmissions and actuators, and other technologies.

The work has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and the Human Frontier Science Program.

Oregon State University | ATRIAS Bipedal Robot: Takes a Walk in the Park

Abstract of Exciting Engineered Passive Dynamics in a Bipedal Robot

A common approach in designing legged robots is to build fully actuated machines and control the machine dynamics entirely in software, carefully avoiding impacts and expending a lot of energy. However, these machines are outperformed by their human and animal counterparts. Animals achieve their impressive agility, efficiency, and robustness through a close integration of passive dynamics, implemented through mechanical components, and neural control. Robots can benefit from this same integrated approach, but a strong theoretical framework is required to design the passive dynamics of a machine and exploit them for control. For this framework, we use a bipedal spring-mass model, which has been shown to approximate the dynamics of human locomotion. This paper reports the first implementation of spring-mass walking on a bipedal robot. We present the use of template dynamics as a control objective exploiting the engineered passive spring-mass dynamics of the ATRIAS robot. The results highlight the benefits of combining passive dynamics with dynamics-based control and open up a library of spring-mass model-based control strategies for dynamic gait control of robots.