The first walking robot capable of carrying a human was unveiled on Friday in Tokyo, Japan. Interesting photo here.
Its creators at Waseda University in Tokyo and the Japanese robotics company tmsuk hope their two-legged creation will one day enable wheel-chair users to climb up and down stairs and assist the movement of heavy goods over uneven terrain.
The battery-powered robot, code-named WL-16, is essentially an aluminium chair mounted on two sets of telescopic poles. The poles are bolted to flat plates which act as feet.
WL-16 uses 12 actuators to move forwards, backwards and sideways while carrying an adult weighing up to 60 kilograms (130 pounds). The robot can adjust its posture and walk smoothly even if the person it is carrying shifts in the chair. At present it can only step up or down a few millimeters, but the team plans to make it capable of dealing with a normal flight of stairs.
“I believe this biped robot, which I prefer to call a two-legged walking chair rather than a wheelchair, will eventually enable people to go up and down the stairs,” said Atsuo Takanishi, from Waseda University.
“We have had strong robots for some time but usually they have been manipulators, they have not been geared to carrying people around,” says Ron Arkin, at the Georgia Institute of Technology and robotics consultant for Sony. “But I don’t know how safe and how user-friendly WL-16 is.”
Tmsuk chief executive Yoichi Takamoto argues that bipedal or multi-legged robots will be more useful than so-called “caterpillar models” for moving over uneven ground.
WL-16’s normal walking stride measures 30 centimetres, but it can stretch its legs to 136 cm apart. The prototype is currently radio-controlled, but the research team plans to equip it with a joy stick-like controller for the user in future, Takanishi said. It will take “at least two years” to develop the WL-16 prototype into a working model.
Smaller, ground-hugging robots have been developed to traverse tricky terrain. One maggot-like device uses a magnetic fluid to pulse its way along, while another snake-like robot use smart software to devise new movement strategies if the landscape takes its toll on any one part.
One ball-shaped robot even uses a leap-and-bounce approach to travel over bumpy territory. But none of these are big or strong enough to carry a person too.