This Research in Action article was provided to LiveScience in partnership with the National Science Foundation.
In the future that mechanical engineer Jonathan Hurst foresees, robots will go jogging, help soldiers carry heavy equipment, or act as exoskeletons to help disabled people get around. Hurst is building a two-legged robot designed to move over uneven ground as skillfully as any human.
The Oregon State University professor's current project, ATRIAS, has fiberglass springs — the same kind used in archery bows — that work as tendons do. The springs are stretchy and flexible, which allows ATRIAS to move, hop and walk.
The idea is not only for ATRIAS to look fluid and natural, but also to achieve energy efficiency, expending the same level of energy in movement that people do, or less. Rather than using energy-intensive mechanized controls for locomotion, ATRIAS uses momentum from its swinging parts.
Ultimately, Hurst wants to share his discoveries with other universities, so that people can build on his work. Copies of ATRIAS are slated to go too collaborators at Carnegie Mellon and the University of Michigan — where engineers are working on the same "legged locomotion" robotics — once a two-legged version of ATRIAS is complete, Hurst says.
"Once you have a machine that could demo on a similar level as an animal or a human, then it's going to be an industry," he said. "It's going to be like the automotive industry, where different companies make improvements over time to make things better and better."
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