Robot runs on reflex

Researchers from the Universities of Glasgow, Stirling and Goettingen have developed a two-legged robot that walks at record-breaking speed.

’RunBot’, a 30 centimetre high robot, is the fastest robot of its kind, with the ability to walk at 3.5 leg-lengths per second.

PhD student Tao Geng developed RunBot, under the supervision of Dr Bernd Porr and Professor Woergoetter.

“We wanted to show that natural walking can be established by combining simple reflexes,” said Porr, of the University of Glasgow’s Electronics and Electrical Engineering Department.

“Unlike other walking robots, RunBot uses a minimalist approach with only a handful of sensors and neurons which establish walking. It makes use of the passive mechanical properties of the legs.”

“RunBot challenges the classical view that walking needs a central rhythm generator which tells the legs when to lift and when to swing, for example, like the pacemaker in the heart. Instead the robot uses reflexes which are triggered when a foot touches the ground which then makes the other foot lift and so in. Consequently the robot adjust its speed when it is running up or down a slope which looks very natural and human-like.”

“The reflex based walking robot has been developed to show that simple reflexes are able exhibit complex movements. We have also shown that these reflexes can drive learning to improve walking behaviour.”

The understanding of human walking is important for researchers who work with patients with spinal injuries.