Getting robots to walk like humans is a tricky (and reliably amusing) exercise. Mimicking the product of hundreds of thousands of years of evolution using servos instead of muscles usually leads to robots that stumble, bumble, and fall flat on their shiny metal asses. We're getting better at it though, and a team of engineers from the Georgia Institute of Technology have come up with a handy method of improving their robot's ability to stride: a pair of decent shoes.
Okay, so it's a little more more complicated than just heading over to Foot Locker to get the DURUS robot sized up for a pair of Nike Airs, but it is all about how we copy human characteristics. Usually, bipedal robots have flat feet that are optimized to provide a stable platform for balancing on. Just check out Boston Dynamics' latest Atlas robot, for example — it manages to navigate some tricky terrain, but it's still stomping about like a toddler in a puddle.
DURUS walks like a human; hitting the floor with its heel and pushing off with its toes
George Tech's engineers instead gave DURUS a more human gait, including modified feet complete with an arch in the middle. Like humans, DURUS steps onto its heel first, then brings down the rest of its foot and pushes off with its toes. The mechanics don't just work by themselves, though, and the creators of DURUS at Georgia Tech's Advanced Mechanical Bipedal Experimental Robotics (AMBER) Lab, also designed new balancing algorithms to keep the bot upright.
Speaking to LiveScience, Christian Hubicki of Georgia Tech and one of the robot's designers, said the shoes weren't necessary, but did demonstrate the essential concept. "We wanted to show that our algorithms could make it walk with human-size feet," Hubicki told the publication. "What better way to do that than [by] putting shoes on it?" That's great, but let's see how it does in heels next.