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MABEL: the world's fastest knee-equipped bipedal robot

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August 18, 2011

MABEL the robot can run with a human-like gait at speeds of up to 10.9 km/h

MABEL the robot can run with a human-like gait at speeds of up to 10.9 km/h

Image Gallery (3 images)

Although Honda's ASIMO has been running around at speeds of up to 6 km/h (3.7 mph) since 2004, his style is more of a fast sneak than a true running action. Getting bipedal robot like ASIMO to run like a human is no easy feat - as C-3PO is sure to attest - but researchers in a University of Michigan (U-M) lab have done just that with a bipedal robot called MABEL. The researchers believe that MABEL, which can reach a peak pace of 10.9 km/h (6.8 mph), is the world's fastest bipedal robot with knees.

Built in 2008 by U-M professor Jessy Grizzle working in collaboration with U-M doctoral students Koushil Sreenath and Hae-Won Park and then doctoral student at the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, Jonathan Hurst, MABEL started out walking over flat surfaces before moving onto uneven ground. The researchers spent years progressively improving the feedback algorithms that enable MABEL to keep its balance while reacting to its environment in real time and in July of this year the robot took its first real jog.

To enable MABEL's human-like gait, its weight is distributed like a person's, with a heavier torso and light, flexible legs with springs that act as tendons. The researchers say that other running robots, such as ASIMO, are almost speed walking and their so-called flight phase when both feet are off the ground lasts less than 10 percent of each step. In contrast, MABEL is in the air for 40 percent of each stride.

MABEL running around the test track at the U-M lab

"We envision some extraordinary potential applications for legged robot research: exoskeletons that enable wheelchair-bound people to walk again or that give rescuers super-human abilities, and powered prosthetic limbs that behave like their biological counterparts," said Hurst, who is now an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering at Oregon State University.

With an estimated ground clearance of 7.6 - 10 cm (3-4 inches) at a speed of 7.2 km/h (4.5 mph), the researchers claim MABEL is better able to deal with uneven ground, travel inside places built for humans and clear obstacles more effectively than other running bipedal robots. The engineers say two-legged robots with running ability like MABEL's could one day serve as robotic soldiers or rescuers.

"Imagine a future where you don't have to first clear a path and build roads before a vehicle could move around," Sreenath said, "but rather, we have a class of running machines like animals that could transport you around with no roads, but with a smooth and efficient ride."

Video of MABEL in action can be seen below. Additional videos are available from the MABEL project page here.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
7 Comments

GO BLUE!

Island Architect
18th August, 2011 @ 01:40 pm PDT

c'mon surely this doesn't count?

Can it even stand up on its own? I'll be more impressed when

a) it's not held upright by a metal bar

b) it can carry its own energy source

c) it can run in a straight line, rather than just round in circles.

Adrien
18th August, 2011 @ 04:31 pm PDT

Just needs a pair of arms, some really big guns and a whiny, angsty teenager to pilot it. Who says armies won't be putting mechs into battle? ;)

Gregg Eshelman
18th August, 2011 @ 05:11 pm PDT

This is pretty cool. I wonder why they didn't go ahead and incorporate an ankle.

Paul Anthony
19th August, 2011 @ 07:56 am PDT

I'm with Adrien. Was excited until I saw the video. I'll give them the energy source issue--the big deal is something that can run in a way that gets some ground clearance. But I would have thought the other big deal is that it do it while not falling over.

Arf
19th August, 2011 @ 10:17 am PDT

Shhhh you'll wake the kids!

Denis Klanac
22nd August, 2011 @ 09:33 pm PDT

One thing at a time, guys. First you figure out how to make it work, then you figure out how to make it work under further constraints. Granted, it's premature to compare it to ASIMO (valid points made by "Island Architect") but I consider these legs to be an improvement as they more closely mimic biological legs. I suppose they'll end up putting blades (like the "Cheetah Flex-Foot carbon fiber transtibial artificial limbs") on in the short term while they work out the more complex "feet issue" (which will give it balance, among other things, so it can get rid of that stabilization boom).

Nate Mills
28th August, 2011 @ 10:22 am PDT
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