WATCH: Robotic Legs Use Brain-like Controller to Mimic Human Motion

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Robots don’t stroll, at least not in science fiction movies.

They more often than not lumber or, in the case of C-3PO, shuffle. But thanks to scientists at the University of Arizona, you might one day see a robot casually sauntering down your street, moving as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

These biomechanical legs are physically modeled after human legs, complete with hip, knee and ankle joints, plus nine “muscles” consisting of Kevlar straps tied to motors. While that’s impressive enough, what’s really mind-blowing is how it moves.

In the lumbar region of your spinal cord, you have something called a central pattern generator (CPG) that lets you walk efficiently, i.e. without thinking about it and spending too much energy. For their robot, the researchers created a neural controller which coordinates the signals coming from the load sensors in the muscles and contact sensors in the toes and heel.

The result, according to the paper they published yesterday, is “the first robot which fully models walking in a biologically accurate manner.”

Basically, while many robot legs use sensors to react to the surface they’re walking on, the CPG lets these legs coordinate their movements, adjusting their gait in a natural way if it encounters an obstacle like one of the feet becoming weighed down.

The idea, according to AFP, is to create robots that can operate around human beings. Stiff, mechanical legs that don’t react to human touch can be dangerous; the idea here is to create a robot that will move away if you push it or change directions if it bumps into something.

The next step is to give the robot visual and tactile sensors so it can correct itself if it stumbles and falls down.

Quite a feat, yes, but you don’t have to worry about encountering a walking Terminator just yet. This machine is a bit on the short side, standing a little under two feet tall and weighing less than 10 pounds. Its biggest application right now is to gain a better understanding of how human beings walk, which could be used to help people with spinal injuries.

Still, according to AFP “two major corporations in the US have expressed interest in this work.” We’re looking at you, Skynet.

[via Forbes]

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