Highlights from the 2014 LA Auto Show

Run, robot, run – here comes the OutRunner

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May 9, 2014

The OutRunner robot – are six legs better than four wheels?

The OutRunner robot – are six legs better than four wheels?

Image Gallery (3 images)

So, you already own little remote-control cars, planes, boats and submarines ... what else could there be? Well, how about something that runs? That's just what the OutRunner does. It's being billed as "the world's first RC running robot," and hopefully you'll soon be able to get one for under $250.

The OutRunner was created by Robotics Unlimited, a spinoff company consisting of robotics, electronics and mechanical designers from the Florida Institute for Human & Machine Cognition.

As can be seen in the photos, it's not a bipedal robot, but instead features vertically-mounted spinning "turrets" on either side, with a series of monopod-like legs extending out from them. As the turrets (or whatever they're called) turn, the legs move forward and meet the ground.

"By having a center of mass lower than the leg axis of rotation, OutRunner robots exploit a buoyancy effect, making them inherently stable and eliminating the need for expensive sensors and complex control algorithms," the company explains on its Kickstarter page. "Energy efficiency is achieved by exploiting the same feature observed in legged animals; using legs as an energy storage system allows for fluctuation and conservation (and not losses) of potential and kinetic energy during running."

One of the prototypes in action

And yes, the robots can be steered, by shifting their center of mass to one side or the other. The production versions should also reportedly be able to start running from a standstill, despite what's shown in the pitch video at the bottom of the page.

Robotics Unlimited plans on releasing two versions of the robot. The OutRunner Core will be the basic model, offering a top speed of 10 mph (16 km/h), battery runtime of one hour, and a universal camera mount. It will be controlled by a standard remote control unit, and will have a total of six legs.

The OutRunner Performance, on the other hand, will be for people who take their running robots more seriously. It'll have a top speed of 20 mph (32 km/h), go for two hours per charge, and will feature its own 720p onboard video camera that transmits footage in real time via Wi-Fi. It will be controlled by a choice of a remote or a smartphone app, and users will be able to equip it with anywhere from 6 to 12 legs.

Robotics Unlimited plans on releasing two versions of the robot

So, apart from the novelty value, why bother with a running robot instead of one with wheels? According to the designers, the legs allow the OutRunner to step over obstacles, letting it move over varied terrain. Additionally, each of those legs has a built-in shock absorber, making the robot surprisingly stable.

If you're interested in getting an OutRunner of your own, a pledge of US$249 will get you a put-it-together-yourself kit for a Core model, when and if they reach production. At the other end of the scale, a fully-assembled Performance model will set you back $799, which is still $200 below the planned retail price.

Source: Kickstarter

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
18 Comments

Is this really a robot? Or is it a remotely controlled machine that can carry a video camera?

Full credit to the designers. It's a great machine but what makes it a robot?

Alien
9th May, 2014 @ 07:30 pm PDT

wow, no arrogance there!

JimD
9th May, 2014 @ 08:15 pm PDT

I am suspicious that they do not show it doing any sharp turns or going at any speed other than a full run. Also unless it is going over obstacles or through shallow water, why bother with legs? Wheels have to be more efficient and simpler. If they like the idea of a running robot, wouldn't a 2 legged robot or even a 4 legged one a la Boston Dynamics be more true to the act of running?

Michaelc
9th May, 2014 @ 08:16 pm PDT

They need to show why this robot would be better than a similar robot with 2 wheels.

Adorable pumpkin
9th May, 2014 @ 08:27 pm PDT

I'm scratching my head thinking of what I would want this for. I don't see the runner running in the grass or offroad, so is it limited to paved road, despite the running? What about water-proofing for running in a bit of water? Or even different feet so it could run across water?

That'd be cool... still not thinking of a realistic use, unless it can run off-road. I'd like to see how much more nimble this is -- how fast can it turn? Video feed? Could I have it chase a mountain bike down a mountain? I'm thinking no... maybe if you had the three arms connected in almost a wheel (flexing triangle) it could be more off-road ready.

ooglek
10th May, 2014 @ 01:17 pm PDT

As implemented, explain to me how this is simply not a spoke wheel with out rims? I don't see an ability to tackle uneven terrain, climb said terrain, or negotiate tight spaces, the advantages of quad or bi pedal locomotion.

So, is a robot? or proof kickstarter will try to fund anything?

Frank1962
11th May, 2014 @ 07:03 am PDT

I think it's a stretch to call this "running". Those are just spoked wheels without the rim. There's no back and forth motion of legs, just pure rotation.

Adrien
11th May, 2014 @ 03:02 pm PDT

it may be a legway, but i think it's been done with wheels already

ash
11th May, 2014 @ 06:47 pm PDT

Pretty impractical really. Cannot see how it manages sharp turns either.

BUT, Man - wouldn't it freak out the local cats or birdlife ...

I have seen previously somebody is using something pretty like a wingless R/C plane on skid floats to frighten a plague of geese, I bet this would do fairly well.

The Skud
11th May, 2014 @ 08:50 pm PDT

This is just a wheel. Whether its a robot or a remote controlled wheel is one thing but its definitely not running. Its rolling. If a human does a cartwheel are they still running? Or rolling? Or cartwheeling?

Also seems incapable of starting from a standstill.

If is cant perform motion without human assistance to get it moving its not a robot.

Cheers,

Simon

Simon Bailey
12th May, 2014 @ 01:36 am PDT

I disagree with you guys, I think its smart design. Millions/year goes into funding of legged robots stating limitations of wheels (something I mostly disagree with) and this design addresses most their concerns without the inefficiency of legged designs that have to change direction to reset position.

I think for $300 they just made a lot of people look really stupid.

Daishi
12th May, 2014 @ 01:38 am PDT

Very neat design. But leave it to engineers over complicate the wheel.

Simon_Hawk
12th May, 2014 @ 05:44 am PDT

One of the advantages it has over a full wheel system is mass. That being said, uneven terrain could be its undoing. Showing it running on grass is cool, but basically a lawn is a flat (although soft) surface. Finding a hole (gopher, sprinkler, etc.) would bring things to a halt, and maybe damage something. If a Segway can stop/start, I see no reason this can't do the same. This definitely has the cool and freaky factor going for it.

Bruce H. Anderson
12th May, 2014 @ 09:48 am PDT

It is just a plain wheeled design with a marketing idea. No advantages over a wheel and lots of disadvantages such as higher ground pressure and instability.

leonardo73vidal
12th May, 2014 @ 10:25 am PDT

I'm of the camp that this is not a robot at all...robots have some level of autonomy. This thing does nothing unless controlled, remotely by a human.

Ed
12th May, 2014 @ 02:58 pm PDT

This may be an early idea yet to be more fully developed . I am wondering if it can stand, run, slow, stop, and again stand? A programmable telescoping leg would help stability as would a camera defining the ground topography. The only reason it seems it cannot run thru grass or rough ground is it's small size. What about one that is 15 feet tall? If it falls over why not an actuator that telescopes out and tips it back upright so it can again be on it's way? Can you imagine being attacked by a 100 of these skinny (low cross sectional area) "OutRunners" jig jogging toward you with belly mounted lasers firing away?

b2p
12th May, 2014 @ 03:05 pm PDT

Did no one else pick up on the idea of stored energy in the leg design? By compression, the center of gravity lowers and improves stability without expensive sensors or controls needed. (per the factory speak).

kellory
12th May, 2014 @ 03:43 pm PDT

A robot that runs is interesting. Has anyone seen the tiny robotic bee that flys: http://www.gizmag.com/harvard-robobee-flying-robot-insect/27432/

Jerry Chang
15th May, 2014 @ 01:37 pm PDT
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