Walking robot uses its own weight for propulsion


November 1, 2011

A curious observer watches the biped walk on a treadmill (Photo:

A curious observer watches the biped walk on a treadmill (Photo:

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Creating systems that are energy autonomous is a key goal in the development of robotics, and this new walking prototype from Japan's Nagoya Institute of Technology (NIT) is a big step in the right direction. To some, calling this device a robot may be a bit of a stretch, especially since it lacks electricity, motors or computers of any kind, but its entry into the Guinness Book of Records last year shows it can certainly go the distance with its weight as the only motive force.

"This robot is walking down a slope, and its only source of power is potential energy," said NIT's Kazuki Iwatsuki. "It doesn't use any kind of motor or control, so we think it's very environmentally friendly." Indeed, the device adeptly mimics the human gait, which is essentially a "controlled fall."

NIT's topless biped entered the record books after logging 100,000 steps on a gently-sloping treadmill in a test session. Over a 13-hour period, the device traveled the equivalent distance of 9.3 miles (15 km).

"The robot has three main parts: thighs, lower legs, and ankles," Iwatsuki explained. "It's made of aluminum, and it contains only mechanical components, which have been adjusted so that the robot has the same thigh and leg lengths as a person, and weighs the same."

Plans are in the works to commercially develop the prototype for a number of possible uses in 1-2 years. While no price point is yet available, some of the biped's possible uses might include a prosthetic walking aid for the partially disabled and as a training assist for various athletes. No doubt the military has a wary eye on the development, as well. That's one small step for a robot, one giant leap for robotics.

Check out the videos below to see the biped in action. The second shows a foam-clad female (Blue-Biped) version walking along with just a gentle assist from behind.

Sources: NIT

About the Author
Randolph Jonsson A native San Franciscan, Randolph attended the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland before finding his way to the film business. Eventually, he landed a job at George Lucas' Industrial Light + Magic, where he worked on many top-grossing films in both the camera and computer graphics departments. A proud member of MENSA, he's passionate about technology, optimal health, photography, marine biology, writing, world travel and the occasional, well-crafted gin and tonic! All articles by Randolph Jonsson

\"calling this device a robot may be a bit of a stretch, especially since it lacks electricity, motors or computers of any kind\"

A robot could get around on wheels, too, right? But if I put a toy car on a downward sloping treadmill, I would be an idiot to call that a robot. Japanese tin toys of 1960s were more robot than this. My mother\'s reach-extender claw is more robot than this.


That\'s the most beautiful Slinky I\'ve ever seen.


I think this is more than an overgrown slinky or toy car. It is showing energy efficiency. Now that they have most of the mechanics worked out, it is probably a short step to simulate the same forward falling effect by offsetting the center of gravity, which would take very little energy at all.

Thomas Roberts

To all cynical critics-

Well,then- build something better and show us what you really know!

If this group does offer something public within a year or two as they hope to then they\'re moving a lot faster than the West.

It is the bottom half of an android and is very human in appearance.

If the top is anywhere close to that, it will be on the forefront of robotics, indeed.

These people are farther than along most readers probably realize.

They are showing components and when those components are assembled, it will be more than just the sum of its parts.

I would be surprised if they don\'t have a few surprises  waiting for final unveiling.

Hey,Gizmag- you should follow up with a story on the Biped as it develops.

People don\'t seem to have the vision to see beyond component proof&testing like this one.... and that it is already setting World Records before it\'s even completed and made fully public!

Robotics are not my primary field but I appreciate the effort and time that goes into something like this.


I agree with Griffin. Advances like this will have profound application once developed. I see in October\'s TIME magazine that the USA ranks 51st in the world in Science and Math education. Can you even NAME 51 countries? What is going on over there?


This is nice, but it\'s essentially a copy. During my research at uni I found an almost identical (working) \"robot\" published in a 1990 paper (21 years ago). They were researching how humans can walk with such great efficiency and proved that a biped robot could operate with only minimal power. The biggest hurdle is compromise, as this only helps when walking continuously in a straight line on a flat surface.


@Thomas Roberts, I totally agree. Falling in a manner consistent with the environment is applied for everything from our own walking to the movement of planets, stars and galaxies. Surely the most prevalent approach in the universe - always a good sign that we\'re on to good science.

Marcus Carr

Forgive me for seeming a little cynical over this one, but isn\'t its main DRAWBACK that it works on the basis of potential energy?

Whilst in the real world, i.e. away from the lab and its treadmill, it may be useful for moving things downhill, surely energy will need to be expended to get it to the top of the hill in the first place?

That, or they build them at the top of the hill and end up with vast numbers of them, uncared for, at the bottom.


Obviously this is a step towards an end goal. If you take the basic structure here and add servos, gyros, power, etc, you will have an efficient and robust set of legs capable of handling not only flat surfaces, but gentle upward slopes. Further that with a bit more flexibility in the hip and knee joints, and some clever cable/pulley/motor/sensors and you might even get stair-climbing out of it. I wouldn\'t take it off-roading, but for urban use as a replacement legs for amputees etc., this could be incredibly beneficial. And the key here is that no extra motive force is required for gentle walking (which is where the most use would be anyways) I see this approach as extremely useful and beneficial. Excellent work!!

Jeremy Nasmith
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