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Robotic Legs Instead of Wheelchairs 149

smooth wombat writes "Atsuo Takanishi, an engineering professor at Tokyo's Waseda University, has demonstrated a pair of robotic legs that may one day eliminate the need for wheelchairs. At the demonstration in Tokyo, one of Takanishi's students rode the robot -- which bears some resemblance to the mechanical "Wrong Trousers" of Wallace and Gromit fame -- up and down a staircase and along a pebbly path outdoors. A picture of the demonstration may be found here " Still waiting for my Gundam but that's a good start.
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Robotic Legs Instead of Wheelchairs

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  • by yroJJory ( 559141 ) <me@@@jory...org> on Wednesday April 26, 2006 @10:02AM (#15204748) Homepage
    ...and they've gone wrong!

  • somehow i get the impression this is not intended for the gian robot fanatic demographic..
  • Interesting (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ironsides ( 739422 ) on Wednesday April 26, 2006 @10:02AM (#15204750) Homepage Journal
    Only two legs? I'm surprised they didn't go with four. Sure, it's a little bit harder to work with. However, it would seem to be quite a bit more stable as well, especially when the power fails.
    • Only two legs?

      I don't think the number of legs is much of the issue as the size of the robot. Unless the dude on the chair is alot smaller than he seems, this machine seems to be quite large. No one will want to use this if it is pain in the ass to transport, or if they can't maneuver into small spaces.
      • Re:Interesting (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Mattsson ( 105422 )
        One would guess, though, that an eventual commercial mass-market version version would be a bit more slim and have over-all a more polished design than a university research-prototype. ^_^
      • Yeah, wheelchairs aren't a pain in the ass to transport, and they fit in to small spaces soooooo easily.

        Anything that will give a person who is disabled physically more independence, and the ability to go places people with functioning legs go, will sell. Currently, people without the use of their legs, have plan with wheelchair accessibility in mind, they have to drive special cars, live in special houses, and can't even hang out at the beach, unless they can afford uber expensive power assisted all te
        • Ok, before anyone berates me, I read the article but didn't look at the pic.

          The one in the pic is rediculous in the light of many of the ones already developed that have FAR more potential.

          Like these [usatoday.com], or these [theage.com.au]
        • Re:Interesting (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward
          I appreciate you're observations!

          I, myself, am a disabled college student, and living on my own can really be a terribly difficult task at time. I have a powered wheelchair, which may I add is immense and very heavy. I can't just take this thing anywhere, if you know what I mean.

          Until about 5 years ago, my batteries that power my chair, were unable to clear luggage. They were old styled water cell batteries, that if brought up to that altitude, would rupture and leak in the luggage section of the plane,
    • Re:Interesting (Score:5, Interesting)

      by FirienFirien ( 857374 ) on Wednesday April 26, 2006 @10:22AM (#15204939) Homepage
      The major advantage of this over a wheelchair is conformity to the normal human shape. A wheelchair already has far more motive efficiency - and there's designs with wheel pairs that allow newer-fangled wheelchairs to climb chairs, raise the user, etc. Two legs give a disabled person a more normal appearance; four legs do not.

      Wheelchairs aren't even limited with normal pebble surfaces - and if a surface is unstable enough to cause a wheel problems, then it'll cause a robotic leg-replacement problems too.
      • The major advantage of this over a wheelchair is conformity to the normal human shape.

        Me thinks someone did not RTFA or look at the pic... This thing makes the user conform more to a normal human shape than someone in a wheelchair like an aircraft carrier conforms to my rowboat.

        tm

        • Perhaps not the ones in the article, but there are many better variations.

          Like these [usatoday.com], or these [theage.com.au]
          • Note that both of the examples you gave require functioning legs (more correctly, nerves to the legs) to work. Until we can capture nervous signals to the legs accurately and before they get disrupted by whatever is causing the paralysis, these options aren't viable for paraplegics. I'm sure that day will come, but this is only half of the solution.
    • by Random Destruction ( 866027 ) on Wednesday April 26, 2006 @10:27AM (#15204975)
      Even if the power doesn't fail, what if it trips? Who here has never fallen down the stairs, ever?
      I forsee lawsuits in the future of this technology. "Wheelchair replacement protects grandma at the bottom of the stairs"
    • nah, three is the best number of legs. Then you can be a Tripod [answers.com]
      • Well, if we're just throwing around a crap load of numbers, then 6 is the best one. That way, you can always be a tripod, and still move forward. Might be easier mechanically, too: One relativly powerful system to lift/move/drop the sets of legs, with each leg having independe hydraulics controling only length and angle. If the control software is built that one set of legs must be stable for the other to move, then getting off balance would be impossible.
  • ease of use (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Digitus1337 ( 671442 ) <lk_digitus.hotmail@com> on Wednesday April 26, 2006 @10:02AM (#15204755) Homepage
    It takes two joysticks to control... how much of an improvement is this over wheelcheers? What of those with limited or no use of their hands. While the legs seem cool, are they really practical?
    • i think this could offer a lot of improvement over a wheelchair. think of the ability to interact at eye-level with a standing person. or mobility up and down stairs and other places that would typically require special equipment to be in place. wheelchairs would restrict mobility more than a functional set of robotic legs.
    • The advantage is that our infrastructure is more geared towards humans on legs than on wheels (e.g. stairs).
    • Re:ease of use (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Scrameustache ( 459504 ) * on Wednesday April 26, 2006 @10:26AM (#15204967) Homepage Journal
      It takes two joysticks to control... how much of an improvement is this over wheelcheers?

      Why don't you try going up a flight of stairs in a wheelchair and get back to us with your results?
      You'll want to count the number of hands you're using to turn the wheels too...
      • He's right though, giving up your hands just so you can go up/down stairs is not a reasonable trade-off. You might be able to navigate stairs, but you couldn't hold anything. You can't always sit stuff in your lap due to wind and the object (e.g. glass of beer). Also, devices like this are not practical to put in your car.
      • If they make it so it can ride a Segway it will be able to go faster.
        • If they make it so it can ride a Segway it will be able to go faster.

          Hehe, but seriously, you know that the Segway was made as a consummer product for the technology in Kamen's earlier invention: An electric wheenchair that can stand up and climb stairs.

          His goal was to make the wheelchair more affordable by lowering production cost through commercial distribution of the segway... didn't pan out, but the goal was commendable. That fancy wheelchair of his is a marvel of engineering.
      • Why don't you try going up a flight of stairs in a wheelchair and get back to us with your results?
        You'll want to count the number of hands you're using to turn the wheels too...


        This thread will be archived by the time the OP gets out of the hospital.
      • You'll want to count the number of hands you're using to turn the wheels too...

        Obviously we are discussing electric wheelechairs here so your answer is one.
        • Not necessarily. Electric chairs are generally reserved for
          quadraplegics, not people who have full use of their upper
          torso. They get the manual chairs, and those require 2 hands.
      • Already done. (Score:4, Informative)

        by nathan s ( 719490 ) on Wednesday April 26, 2006 @10:58AM (#15205222) Homepage
        From the Segway guy, this wheelchair [independencenow.com] can climb stairs and tackle pebbly paths.:-P
      • Are there not wheelchairs with treads that are capable of climing stairs? As I understand it, they are usable by those with neck/head injuries, and that lack most motor functions.
      • Funny, the iBot wheelchair can climb (some) stairs, but it only needs one (1) controller.
    • Keep in mind that manual wheelchairs already require two hands, so that's not an issue for many wheelchair users.

      And there are already devices out there that allow wheelchair users with limited/no hand control to still use their wheelchair. A mouth-controlled joystick is one method of allowing a quadriplegic to remain fairly independent. While these robotic legs currently require two joysticks, it wouldn't surprise me if they were able to get it down to one, meaning that any person who can use a wheelchai
  • by chriss ( 26574 ) * <chriss@memomo.net> on Wednesday April 26, 2006 @10:03AM (#15204763) Homepage

    I think this is great, but it will still take some time to be used in daily life. This looks like one of the biped robots we have seen in the last years who has the possibility to carry a person. These bots can balance each step, but they are always in balance. A person which is walking or running is not in a permanent state of standing, but falling. To move forward at a reasonable pace you have to abandon stability and use gravity to draw you forward and reestablishing balance once you set down your foot.

    This is difficult enough on a fixed floor (watch babies learn to walk), but much harder on something like grass or inside a moving train. Considering how long it took to get robots to even stand it will still take some time to walk. So if you depend on a wheelchair today and would like to actually move at decent speeds, you may be out of luck for some time.

    • I'm really sick of people not noting the distinction. Even the recent Asimo demonstration with "running" was very obviously "playing the 'walk' loop at 2x speed".
      While generally a human can "freeze" at various points in his walking step, he is not able to do so without extra effort. So far, I've not seen a [practical] robot which walks by falling (as you put it).

      Asimo is a good demonstration of unnatural "overly balanced" walking. You can see the way it is sortof "hunched over" as it moves with its knees al
      • Because we're to the passive-dynamic-walking-robot-has-been-built stage. It can be done in labratory conditions; search google for "dynamic stability". It's just not as stable as the other kind, so can't do things that are nearly as impressive - like manage stairs - without further development.

        Wait. The statically stable robots make money to fund the development of workable dynamically stable ones.
    • I'm not sure true running will ever be practical for such applications. The constant up-and-down motion of the passenger can be very uncomfortable, especially for someone with limited mobility and and/or potentially overweight from lack of motion. The person would have to either hold on for dear life (in which case two axis joysticks would be all but useless for control), or be strapped in, or most likely both. Besides, a machine doesn't have the same motion limitations as a human: artifical legs can have m
      • running on your own legs is very uncomfortable if you are overweight or not used to it. But if you start doing it regularlly you'll get used to it.

        now the fact that the bounce isn't controlled by the body may make it worse but i still think its something people could get used to just as people get used to being on ships and similar.
        • > i still think its something people could get used to just as people get used to being on ships and similar.

          Yeah, but ships don't experience high frequency oscillations as in running, something like two beats per second. You still have the issue of stabilizing the passenger during such constant motion, and of what type of controls would allow precision steering. Joysticks obviously would not work, since they would instinctively also be used as handholds in this contraption, which removes any capacity fo
  • by techpawn ( 969834 ) on Wednesday April 26, 2006 @10:03AM (#15204770) Journal
    Now if this eliminates old guys on those damn Rascals, I'm all for the metal pants even if they are up to their armpits
  • by TWX ( 665546 ) on Wednesday April 26, 2006 @10:03AM (#15204772)
    ...So, these things come out, and someone programs a macro that gets them out of bed, into the trousers, walks to the bureau and stands for fifteen minutes, then walks out of the house, down the stairs, and to work. Unfortunately, the owner has recently become deceased, and the trousers, not programmed to account for little things like that still executes its normal routine...

    I don't know which would be creepier, it doing that with the corpse, or it leaving the house empty...

    And with that I'm reminded of a short story about an automated house...
    • For those trying to rack their brains... the short story is called "There will come soft rains"
      • For those trying to rack their brains... the short story is called "There will come soft rains"

        For some reason that doesn't sound right, but I admit that I could be incorrect. The gist of the story is that the house has been going in perpetuity for an indeterminate time with no people, preparing breakfast, turning on lights, and something short-circuits and it burns down. Almost kubla-khan-esque...
        • The gist of the story is that the house has been going in perpetuity for an indeterminate time with no people, preparing breakfast, turning on lights, and something short-circuits and it burns down.

          That's the one. 'There Will Come Soft Rains' is right. It's from The Martian Chronicles, and was indeed very good. It was from after all the colonists had abandoned Mars and gone back to Earth for the war.

          I never quite got why they did that, mind. If it had been me, it would have been 'oh, they're blowing eac

    • And the important thing was, I was wearing an onion in my belt, because it was the style at the time. . .
    • Unfortunately, the owner has recently become deceased, and the trousers, not programmed to account for little things like that still executes its normal routine...

      Maybe they should borrow some ideas from RFC 2795 (Infinite Monkey Protocol Suite). The KEEPER Message Response Codes would be invaluable here.

      http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc2795.txt [ietf.org]
    • That's the best thing I've ever heard!
  • What about failure (Score:5, Insightful)

    by holdenholden ( 961300 ) on Wednesday April 26, 2006 @10:08AM (#15204812)
    When this contraption fails (because it will, inevitably), I don't want to be the one caught under it. A wheelchair may be inconvenient, but at least will not break your neck in case of a mechanical failure. And if the battery goes dead, a wheelchair can be moved using hands or somebody can push it. If this thing looses power, you are pretty much stuck.
    • by technoextreme ( 885694 ) on Wednesday April 26, 2006 @10:16AM (#15204895)
      A wheelchair may be inconvenient, but at least will not break your neck in case of a mechanical failure.

      You see the plan is to market it to people who have all ready broken their neck. They really won't care if they break it a second time because well what are they going to complain about. They are all ready a parapalegic.
      • You see the plan is to market it to people who have all ready broken their neck. They really won't care if they break it a second time because well what are they going to complain about. They are all ready a parapalegic.

        But paraplegics can still use their arms. If they break their neck because of this stupid thing, then they'ld be quadraplegic and need robotic arms as well as legs. Of course, that just means more money for the makers of robotic limbs, so I guess they'ld call it a feature, not a bug.
        • But paraplegics can still use their arms. If they break their neck because of this stupid thing, then they'ld be quadraplegic and need robotic arms as well as legs. Of course, that just means more money for the makers of robotic limbs, so I guess they'ld call it a feature, not a bug.

          Notice how I said people with broken necks and then wrote paraplegic instead of quadraplegic.
    • Yeah, because people never stumble without wearing those techno trousers. Or collapse because of alcohol intoxication.
      • they do but the human body is quite capable of dealing with falling over or having another person fall on it with no damage in the majority of cases.

        the person on that walker is quite high up and there is the weight of the walker itself to deal with too. Falling while on that or having it fall on you would be a LOT nastier than falling while walking/running or having a person fall on you.
    • Wheelchairs can cause fairly serious injuries when they have mechanical failures. Ever seen an electric wheelchair stuck in forward run into a wall? Not pretty. And I've seen wheels fall off of manual wheelchairs (fortunately, not when a person was in it).

      Also, have you ever tried to push an electric wheelchair? They can be incredibly heavy, and sometimes it's difficult (ie, near impossible) to get the things in neutral. If the batteries die on one of these robotic legs, it won't be the end of the worl
    • but i belive a dead electric wheelchair would be very difficult to move. Those things contain big heavy battery packs.

      If you are relying on a machanical aid you have to plan for supplying it. This applies whether its a car, a powered wheelchair a ride on walker or a powersuit.

      yeah sometimes progress brings with it worse failure modes. With appropriate diligence though theese should be manageable just as they are manageable for aircraft today.
  • by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Wednesday April 26, 2006 @10:09AM (#15204832) Journal
    Nice idea, wheelchairs are idiotic devices. Forget chairs, they can't even deal with a bit of loose sand. Broken up pavement? Going for a ride/walk in nature? Forget it.

    If the device is going to be like the one in the picture I see another advantage. Raise the wheelchair user to eyelevel with standing people.

    Of course this wouldn't be slashdot if someone didn't come up with a lame weak point. This thing can't be pushed if the battery runs out. Granted, electric wheel chairs especially the models used by the elderly can't be pushed without being handicapped yourselve but still.

    • vi VS emacs arguments are pointless and a waste of time.

      vi is the best.

      I agree vi vs. emacs arguements are pointless, but emacs is better.
    • Cue Dalek joke in 3... 2.... 1.... ACTION

      Well, the Davros-brand original Kaled travel machines were a bit iffy. The whole stairs thing. There've been a few design iterations since then.

      If I were to be crippled by some accident, I'd take a modern travel machine over a regular ol' wheelchair any day. The manipulator arm still looks suspiciously like a sink plunger, granted, but I'm betting there've got to be some seriously fine-grained fingers / tentacles / levers / probes / whatever underneath - look how

    • Back in 2001, Dean Kamen's company DEKA Research [dekaresearch.com] developed a wheelchair (marketed through a Johnson & Johnson company called Independence Technology) called the iBOT [independencenow.com] that raises the user to eye-level. Here's the writeup from Business Week [businessweek.com] (2001.04.11) with this nice tidbit:

      "Kamen built the iBOT with gyroscopes that are programmed to create balancing capabilities based on an individual's center of gravity. The gyroscopes, in effect, emulate the principle by which humans are able to stand, balance thems

    • When you depend on something so much what you really need is reliability and the best way to get that is by going the simple way. Would you trust that complex equiment to depend on for almost every moment on your life? What would it cost to make maintainance? How much down time would you have if it's broken? Would you have to have two just in case? What if you are in the middle of the streen and have some problem, how can somebody help you? As an advancement in robotics/enginering it's really impresive but
    • The TankChair [tankchair.com] won't necessarily go up and down stairs (though I bet it handles wide outdoor concrete steps just fine) but it is the best offroad wheelchair solution I've ever seen. This guy built it for his wife to be able to go hiking with her family after she was paralyzed in an accident. Kudos to his unwaivering effort and a successful solution!

      FYI: I found this on the web last week and have no affiliation with the site.

      Oh, and while the videos are very cool, let's try not to kill this guy's bandwidth.

    • You obviously haven't even attempted to look into what adaptive equipment is available.

      There are wheelchair accessories and specialty wheelchairs that allow people to traverse virtually every surface, including, yes, sand. Think of a dune-buggy crossed with a wheelchair. There are all-terrain wheelchairs. There are even floating wheelchairs meant to allow the non-ambulatory that creature comfort of being in a pool.
      • I am not in a chair. I just used to live near a handicapped area in my youth (A small part of Arnhem, Holland that was a project to get a living zone specially adapated for handicapped when the whole idea of special facilities for handicapped people was still new).

        It was no uncommon to have to help some wheelchair user get either unstuck because they misjudged the roadsurface OR help them get around an obstacle. With normal wheel chairs it is already a pain but the electric ones are fucking heavy (or at le

  • do not take on a lodger, especially one that looks like a penguin in chicken costume!
  • Wheelchairs at least have WHEELS that ROLL and can have motorized assist. So if you have Doc Oct legs, next you need to haul a backup generator, or a strong guy to carry you when out of power...

    Talk about being truly disabled.
  • I would have guesses the existing technology used for robotic spider [und.edu] could have been re-used.
    Should be cheaper to build - with little or no problem of falling, balancing s/w could be reduced. Also, there is no issue of falling in case of catastrophic failure in anything.
    Maybe it might be unsuitable to bipedal based enviornments, but should be better than wheels.. right ?
  • I remember a quote for N.T. Stephenson's snowcrash, where Ng, the cyber-genius character, said something along the lines of: "i've tried a lot of prosthetic libs, they were good, I could walk almost like i used to, but wheelchair is still faster and easier to handle." And my two cents are: I welcome the development in this area, but I think that future will be in biomech - artificially grown flesh limbs with some mechanical parts.
  • See; http://www.independencenow.com/home.html# [independencenow.com] It can climb up and down stairs, raise you up to eye level of other standing humans, handle gravel and other rougher terrain. Costs 20k, but If I needed a wheelchair, that's the one I'd get.
  • by kippy ( 416183 ) on Wednesday April 26, 2006 @10:28AM (#15204978)
    Pfft, Stephen Hawking [theonion.com] has had this beat for years.
  • Here [theonion.com] is Professor Hawking's early research into the field
  • I don't know about you guys - but given the choice of being "bumped" by a wheelchair or being walked on by one of these - I think I would rather get bumped.
  • This can navigate stairs?!
    Don't let the Daleks [naseem.co.uk] get a hold of this or we don't stand a chance against them!

  • All you need is a whole bunch of them and a front-mounted chaingun. Then all your pesky cyberdemon cyberdemon troubles are over!
  • I think some designer watched Episode 1 too many times with the walking robotic chair!
  • Here's the Prior Art...

    URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anakin_Skywalker [wikipedia.org]

    So...where's my +5 informative?
  • Well! (Score:2, Funny)

    And here I am using my legs like a sucker!
  • Anyone think this headline and the previous "Vista Firewall to be Crippled" showed up way too close to each other?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Great. Eventually handicapped people will be able to get bionic legs. They will run faster, never tire out and still qualify for closer parking.
  • I'm pretty sure they got everything under control down there.
  • by certel ( 849946 )
    I want electronic legs just because I'm lazy!
  • I saw an article a while back about a Japanese doctor that developed a set of robotic powered exo-legs that help lift and walk and such. They were going to help a senior citizen climb to the summit of a mountain. I can't remember the specifics but I still like that idea best. If designed correctly and the power fails, the legs could assume a crouching position.
  • And you won't care if someone parked in the handicapped spot! [blogger.com]
  • From the broad, shallow social perspective, I do think it makes a whole lot more sense to focus a lot of money on increasing the ability of the disabled to participate in the physical world unassisted (as through something like this, R&D $$ intensive or no,) than it does to spend an equivalent amount of resources on the converse - trying to make the phyiscial world more accessible to the disabled (via curb cuts, handicapped spaces, extra-wide bathrooms, etc.) I'm confident that the several billion $US
  • by Tee7 ( 970867 )
    I'm an amputee. I have health insurance through my employer. It's a mega-company. They will not pay one dime for any prosthetics - new, repairs, modifications - nothing. So this sort of news is fairy dust to us who aren't wealthy.
    • You're sadly in the same position as my wife. She's a member of one of the largest health insurance companies in the UK, but the arrogant fuckers told her that they don't pay for cosmetic surgery.

      Yeah, because I just want that limb back so that I can LOOK good right? It's not like opposable thumbs were actually useful or anything.
  • On the design (Score:3, Interesting)

    by chroma ( 33185 ) <chroma@mindspring.cCHICAGOom minus city> on Wednesday April 26, 2006 @01:04PM (#15206335) Homepage
    The legs appear to be made with 5 parallel actuators, much like the Stewart-Gough platform [roble.info] used in motion simulators, machine tools, and the like. This is an extremely stable design that is very fault tolerant and able to remain stable, even if any one of the actuators becomes disabled.
  • Atsuo Takanishi, an engineering professor at Tokyo's Waseda University, has demonstrated a pair of robotic legs that may one day eliminate the need for wheelchairs.

    Unfortunately, no. Even if this product is without flaws, it cannot eliminate the need for wheelchairs -- not everyone is in a wheelchair because only their legs don't work properly. A paraplegic would have a really hard time operating the joysticks -- although, from TFA, there are plans to develop controls that would "model that could function
  • I found video of the V2 walker (today's demo was the V3) here:
    http://www.takanishi.mech.waseda.ac.jp/research/pa rallel/WL-16rr/movie/stair_c.mpg [waseda.ac.jp]

    Hmmm, the rider looks a little nervous...

    The video is from the university page at:
    http://www.takanishi.mech.waseda.ac.jp/research/pa rallel/WL-16rr/index.htm [waseda.ac.jp]

    They are also working on a reactive foot for walking on uneven surfaces:
    http://www.takanishi.mech.waseda.ac.jp/research/pa rallel/WS-1&1R/index.html [waseda.ac.jp]

    Very promising stuff. Hopefully the multiple linear actua

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