Taking the legwork out of walking

A researcher in Japan has developed the world’s first biped walking robot that is capable of carrying a person. Created by Atsuo Takanishi, an engineering professor at Tokyo‘s WasedaUniversity, the WL-16RIII was demonstrated recently in Tokyo by a member of Takanishi’s team who manoeuvred the robot down a set of stairs, illustrating its potential for disabled or infirm people.

WL-16RIII originated from the concept of a bipedal robot ‘as a leg module sufficient for practical use’. A multi-purpose bipedal locomotor that is totally independent from what is loaded on the upper body enables users to have the upper part of the robot tailormade to fit their needs.

Since 2003 Takanishi’s team has been developing the machine in conjunction with robot manufacturer tmsuk. The aim was to create a two-legged robot that can seamlessly integrate into a human environment and negotiate common, every-day obstacles such as stairs.

Powered by two DC servo motors and utilising a 850MHz Pentium III processor, with two joysticks for control, the robot employs an actuator system equipped with an incremental encoder attached to the motor shaft and a photo micro sensor on each leg to detect and compensate for the initial posture. Each foot is also equipped with a six-axis force/torque sensor that is used for measuring the WL-16RIII’s floor reaction force.

Takanishi hopes to develop a model that could function as a replacement for a wheelchair, which would allow the elderly and disabled who may not be able to use their arms to still use the robot.

The team is also looking at applications for new intelligent mobility as well as an entertainment vehicle that people can drive.

While currently slow and requiring modification for heavier loads, Takanishi and tmsuk hope to have a sporty model ready in a year or two that enthusiasts can use to play robot polo for example, while a more autonomous wheelchair replacement version could be ready in five years.