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Robot Unravels the Mystery of Walking 134

Posted by Zonk
from the ha-ha-i've-been-walking-for-years-now dept.
manchineel writes with a link to a BBC article on the lessons learned from a project in locomotive robotics. 'Runbot', as it is known, is the result of a modern technology combined with a 1930s physiology study into human locomotion. The study found that walking is largely an automatic process; we only engage our brains when we have to navigate around an obstacle or deal with rough terrain. "The basic walking steps of Runbot, which has been built by scientists co-operating across Europe, are controlled by reflex information received by peripheral sensors on the joints and feet of the robot, as well as an accelerometer which monitors the pitch of the machine. These sensors pass data on to local neural loops - the equivalent of local circuits - which analyse the information and make adjustments to the gait of the robot in real time."
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Robot Unravels the Mystery of Walking

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  • by sam_paris (919837) on Thursday July 12, 2007 @04:45PM (#19843257)
    Everytime I read another study about how scientists have tried to replicate something humans find easy, and only manage to produce something that performs the task awkwardly, stupidly or otherwise ineptly, I feel vaguely in awe of how amazing the human body is.

    Especially considering we appear to be a result of dumb luck and retarded fish monkeys..
  • by camperdave (969942) on Thursday July 12, 2007 @05:05PM (#19843453) Journal
    It is 2D only because the robot cannot move from side to side. It can only move forwards and backwards across a terrain that has varying heights. This type of thing is typical when researching locomotion. You either have the robot mounted on a treadmill, or on a central pivot [mit.edu] so that it cannot fall over sideways.
  • by MOBE2001 (263700) on Thursday July 12, 2007 @05:42PM (#19843759) Homepage Journal
    Don't we need a crawlbot before a runbot, or did I miss something here?

    Yeah, indeed. None of these walking are that impressive, if you think about it. What would really catch my attention is a robot that gradually learns how to crawl, walk and run on its own, from scratch, just like humans do. Now, that would be something to write home about. In the meantime, I wish those builders of pre-programmed robots the best. Just have fun and keep the grant money flowing but don't tell me you are doing research in AI. You are just building glorified toys, IMO. One human's opinion, of course.
  • Re:Obvious? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pclminion (145572) on Thursday July 12, 2007 @05:56PM (#19843901)

    Walking isn't an unconscious process because it's too complex for consciousness -- what kind of argument is that? The most complex thinking that humans do (inventing new math, plotting the course of a rocket, designing a 10 million line software system, etc.) is all done CONSCIOUSLY. According to your argument, these tasks should be happening UNconsciously.

    Walking is an unconscious process because it doesn't HAVE to be conscious. Why pollute our conscious minds with thought processes that are irrelevant, when all we're trying to do is walk to the fridge and get a beer?

    Thought processes tend to be made unconscious once they have been learned and refined to the point where the conscious mind is no longer needed to supervise and correct mistakes. I've noticed this first hand when writing code. I no longer find myself thinking "Okay, I need to declare a variable called x," it just sort of comes out of my fingers, while my conscious mind thinks at some more abstract level. Didn't used to be that way. The ability to place tasks into your unconscious mind is a learned skill, I think.

  • Re:hmm (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Xeirxes (908329) <xeirxes@nOsPam.gmail.com> on Thursday July 12, 2007 @06:48PM (#19844293)
    shouldn't this be marked funny instead of informative? :)
  • by Xeirxes (908329) <xeirxes@nOsPam.gmail.com> on Thursday July 12, 2007 @06:52PM (#19844327)
    I think one of the main problems so far with walking robots is that while they can move their joints and things accurately, they can't fine-tune the movement very well. I think the first step might be to add sensors on the feet. It might seem strange, but us humans can feel how much weight is on either leg. Until the robot can detect how much weight is being placed on each foot, I doubt it'll be able to walk with the proficiency of a human.

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