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Mini humanoid robots are beginning to walk more like people


June 5, 2013

The KHR-3HV robot's hardware has been slightly modified but would normally cost around US$1,800 (Photo: Masahiko Yamaguchi)

The KHR-3HV robot's hardware has been slightly modified but would normally cost around US$1,800 (Photo: Masahiko Yamaguchi)

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While there are several humanoid robot kits available to hobbyists, most of them leave much to be desired when it comes to walking the way we do. The fact that they can move on two feet at all is pretty cool, but most simply bend their knees and make a series of quick little steps, resulting in a gait which looks like they're shuffling rather than really walking. Professional roboticists and programmers are now beginning to show some improvements that are worth seeing in action.

Masahiko Yamaguchi is a roboticist who has worked at Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, Boston Dynamics, and Osaka University. In the past, he has programmed a slightly modified Kondo KHR-3HV (a popular commercially-available kit) to ride a bicycle, walk a tightrope, and balance on stilts. He has been working on a walking algorithm for more than a year.

His latest update is arguably the most lifelike walking achieved on a miniature hobby-level biped robot to date. The robot demonstrates straight-legged heel-to-toe walking, a stark contrast to the standard gait where a robot's knees are bent and its feet land parallel to the ground with each step. On his website, he says the robot is currently unable to turn left and right with this gait due to a missing yaw axis in the hip joints, but that he is already working on a turning method.

Wataru Yoshizaki is another professional programmer who recently demonstrated more human-like walking with a different miniature biped. He's the developer of V-Sido (pronounced bushido), real-time robot control software that has been used in conjunction with Microsoft's Kinect sensor to control hobby robots as well as the monstrous mecha Kuratas.

This time the software has been used in conjunction with an original robot design that makes use of hobby-level servos and parts, which appears to be one of the Dancing Doll robots. Like Yamaguchi's robot, this one demonstrates straight-legged walking but does not walk heel-to-toe. However, it can walk over small bumps and can be guided by the hand.

These two projects, which appeared on YouTube just a few weeks apart, are still far out of reach for the average hobbyist. However, perhaps Kondo Kagaku (which puts out the parts used in these robots) will hire these programmers to help them build the next generation of its hobby kit. They're preceded by the work of Tomotaka Takahashi, who developed a silky-smooth gait for his miniature robots called SHIN-Walk several years ago.

Sources: Masahiko Yamaguchi (Japanese) and V-Sido (Japanese)

About the Author
Jason Falconer Jason is a freelance writer based in central Canada with a background in computer graphics. He has written about hundreds of humanoid robots on his website Plastic Pals and is an avid gamer with an unsightly collection of retro consoles, cartridges, and controllers. All articles by Jason Falconer

Wow! That's really spooky! Amazing how easy it looks when they get it right. Hard to appreciate how difficult it really is and how long it's taken to get here. Congratulations to the team. Next on the list: turning running jumping surviving an unexpected push from someone


This has got me thinking might be the answer for how to not cause harm if the robot trips over or steps on beetles like for ahimsa-robotics that don't cause harm to the ecosystem because they are light weight, but big enough to carry avocado seeds and a dolls bucket of orange tree seeds to plant. Could cut weeds efficiently with a tiny hack saw to make mulch/compost for sprouted seeds and climb up trees to do tasks like look for ripe fruit and others on the ground set up a small trampoline to catch the fruit. Now a player in a virtual reality room could also wear a suit that optionally controls the mini-humanoid robot so it is both virtual reality generated from augmented reality at the farm. Looks like it has potential to do anything a human could do if sized that small in an ecosystem and that would be a really lot of work but that is the idea of having it be robot hey? Could get all the fruit trees planted and maintained in the ecological farms that we need. It you agree: join me to plan a ecological future for these and the forthcoming optimizations.

Ahimsa Fruitarian
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