Japanese robot ‘Athlete’ runs like a human


by CBS News


Posted on June 21, 2011 at 12:28 AM

A Japanese engineer researching how animals move is building a robot that can run like a human being.

Ryuma Niyama is attempting to crack the code of human propulsion, an achievement he says will one day lead to more efficient prosthetics.

"Athlete" is a robot designed to run like a human being. He can only go about ten meters before falling over, but according to his designer, Ryuma Niyama, "Athlete" will one day be the automated equivalent of a marathon runner.

"The remarkable thing about my "Athlete" robot, or a muscular skeletal robot is that the robot is driven by muscles," said Niyama.

"Athlete" has seven sets of artificial muscles and several sensors to gauge its orientation and to produce a human-like motion. Niyama says he's using the human body as a model because it is the most efficient machine on Earth. He admits however, that Athlete still has several obstacles to overcome before obstacles before he reaches the finish line.

"In my opinion is that we can build good hardware to achieve running and jumping and the next step is control," he said.

And, according to Niyama, real control can only be achieved through a greater understanding of the mechanics of human motion and the relationship between the brain, nerves and muscles. The more we learn he says, the closer we will get to producing a robot that can mimic how we move.

Niyama began his research at the University of Tokyo where he finished his doctorate degree. Two years ago he moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts to start working at MIT's Robot Locomotion Group where he hopes to perfect "Athlete's" design.

Aside from attempting to mimic human motion, Niyama has also completed extensive research on how other animals move.. After carefully studying frogs, Niyama designed an amphibian robot that can take frog-like leaps into the air.

Whether its frogs or humans, Niyama says the goal is to produce more agile robots that can ultimately improve the lives of human...particularly in the field of prosthetics.

But applying the mechanics of human propulsion to machines is a long and often frustrating process. Niyama is well aware that in his field, you have to walk before you can run.