"Rabbit" runs on two legs so others can walk

May 19, 2005
University of Michigan Engineering professor Jesse Grizzle, working with a French research team, has created a robot, dubbed Rabbit, with a torso, two hips, and two legs with knees.

Rabbit is a bipedal robot designed to advance the understanding of human locomotion.

But don't go looking for a lucky Rabbit's foot.

Researchers in the U.S. and France have joined forces to build a robot that imitates human locomotion. Studying the robot's humanlike gait will aid in developing a new generation of prosthetic limbs (See MACHINE DESIGN, 3/3/05, pg 22, "They walk like men").

To emphasize that it is not walking flatfooted, the robot was designed with neither feet nor ankles. Most bipedal robots walk on the basis of a quasi-static stability notion, in which the foot remains flat on the ground. Human locomotion, however, is statically unstable: if a person's motion were "frozen" in midstride, he would fall. The human gait uses dynamic stability, unlike the flat-footed walking of current robots.

Rabbit represents a giant leap in improving the quality of lower-limb prosthetics and better understanding the dynamics of walking. With support from the National Science Foundation and the Center for Biomedical Engineering Research, team members computed the optimal kinetics for walking and running that resulted in the French-built robot. The robot was designed to walk with an average forward speed of at least 5 km/h and to run at more than 12 km/h — all with a natural gait.

Research on Rabbit and robots like it will advance the understanding of human locomotion. And that understanding will go a long way toward rebuilding shattered lives.

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