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Robotics Hardware

MABEL Robot Runs Like a Human 130

MrSeb writes "Researchers at the University of Michigan have created a running, obstacle-scaling robot. This robot, which is called MABEL (not an acronym), is capable of running at speeds of up to 3.06 meters per second, or 6.8 mph. Physically she is very similar to a human — a heavy torso, and light, springed legs that act as load balancers and shock absorbers — and with a clever feedback system, MABEL even runs like a human, spending 40% of her time three or four inches off the ground."

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MABEL Robot Runs Like a Human

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  • Not very much like me. I'm missing the bar attached to my hip. I can run straight too.... don't like circles.

    • by fatphil ( 181876 )
      Indeed, the "boom for lateral stabilisation" was very subtle, wasn't it?

      A lot of people in the robotics field will almost certainly have just sighed "oh, god, not *another* bipedal forward-backward-only walker/runner". There are already too many of those in the world (and I'm sure several that run a lot quicker than MABEL, but can't back that up with real data).
      • Re:Hmmm... no bar?? (Score:4, Informative)

        by SnowZero ( 92219 ) on Thursday August 18, 2011 @03:33AM (#37126848)

        When I read the summary, I thought exactly that -- I wonder if this is another planar walker?

        Planar walkers were already doing flips 20 years ago, and walking quite convincingly and naturally 12 years ago. Many of those researchers have moved to 3D now, with some of the most impressive recent work showing up at Boston Dynamics.

        There still is good research that can be done on semi-passive force control and efficiency, and a lot of that can be tested on planar walkers. However, for the love of all that is honest, at least mention in the summary that all the things you are claiming are done in a 3 d.o.f. workspace rather than the 6 d.o.f. you have in the real world. A bar also offers a metric load of damping, which is the thing keeping the full-3D walkers from really working naturally, and thus that kind of simplification should be mentioned.

      • If this is the project I'm thinking of, I knew some of the researchers working on the project.

        If I remember correctly, the key distinction between this technique and most bipedal walker-runner systems is that the control system is based on feedback mechanisms and first princicples. Most older systems have to place down one foot before picking up the other foot for balance, and if you push it or disrupt its stride in any way, it just fails.

        This one is much more flexible. That's why it can run or change s

    • by g8oz ( 144003 )

      Good thing technology never improves. We're safe.

  • It still looks weird without feet. It needs feet and big toes to be more like a human.

    Oh, and also it needs to lose the metal beam connecting it to the circle, that's, I think, is the main difference between that and a human. That and all the metal.

    • by slick7 ( 1703596 )

      It still looks weird without feet. It needs feet and big toes to be more like a human.

      Oh, and also it needs to lose the metal beam connecting it to the circle, that's, I think, is the main difference between that and a human. That and all the metal.

      No weirder than a political party without a brain.

      • Political parties have brains?
    • Does it count if they put shoes on MABEL? Because they tried that too. [youtube.com] It doesn't look as graceful this way though.
  • Boston Dynamics' PETMAN [youtube.com] could do its own balancing two years ago.
    • Mabel is a research platform investigating efficient locomotion over rough(ish) ground. Mabel is already FAR more efficient than either petman or asimo. And petman can't (and probably never will) run.
      • by fyngyrz ( 762201 )

        I'm just going t go out on a limb here and say as long as MABEL is out on a limb -- a lateral stabilization arm -- it's not "running', it's just doing the same thing a tank tread does: pushing hardware around by leverage. And yes, tank treads can propel the tank off the ground. See any fun M1A1 demo video.

        Love to see this re-posted when (a) the only connection to the host computer is RF, and (b), the thing has feet so that it won't fencepost itself into the first soft ground it comes to (or damage sidewalks

    • MIT's leg lab [youtube.com] had this sort of thing [youtube.com] operational a dozen or more years ago. They even had models that could jump over obstacles and do backflips.
    • I believe the correct comparison is to one of the old MIT leg lab's robots. 3D Biped [mit.edu] wasn't restricted to a 1D track and could run and do somersaults [mit.edu]--in 1992. And it didn't need no stinkin' knees either!

    • Thanks - I had only seen big dog from BD. This is a serious leap forward. It doesn't seem to run, but it does what it does in 3d and autonomously (less power/control cables). Amazing.

  • Running free? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Warwick Allison ( 209388 ) on Wednesday August 17, 2011 @05:24PM (#37123526) Homepage

    Would be better if they'd explained in their YouTube text that they were only testing forward balance, not lateral stability. Instead they claim it is "Running free", which is laughable.

    • by geekoid ( 135745 )

      running free refers to the fact that there is a moment when both 'feet' are off the ground.

      • Maybe true, but that is only exactly true if there is no vertical load applied on that bar tied to its "waist" .
        Also that thing does not have any hands to provide the balancing force for the fact that one of its legs is ahead of the other, instead it uses a strange load on top of its "neck" to balance itself. That basically means that the "hips" of this robot does not twist like a human being walking. So the adjustment for forward balance actually prevents it from being laterally balanced.
        (Human walking
      • Erm... if both 'feet' weren't off the ground at any moment, then it would be _walking_, not running.

  • Military contracts in 3... 2...

    • I'm guessing you missed the big DARPA logo that appears on the info screen at 0:56? DARPA = Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
  • Sissy runs like the Crushinator.

  • we build are own human replacement.

    Yeah, shooting things in the head going to be real useful when the robots come~

  • And if you dress MABEL like a mail man, Big Dog would chase it down.

  • Michigan's Ain't Balancing Electronic Lapmobile
  • I am sure these chaps are terribly clever but Comic Sans? COMIC SANS????

    • by fyngyrz ( 762201 )

      Try to suppress your interior decorator / wedding planner tendencies. It's a font. A cute one. Not the end of the calligraphic world.

      • Try to suppress your interior decorator / wedding planner tendencies. It's a font. A cute one. Not the end of the calligraphic world.

        I think it's that its full name is Comic Sans MS, and you can't go wrong on slashdot criticising anything released by Microsoft.

  • Uhm.. Is little ms.. or that thing being dragged around in circles or what?

    • by geekoid ( 135745 )

      No, it's running on its own, the cable and poll are there in case of failure. The interesting thing there is the air time.That's a really big deal.

      • by fatphil ( 181876 )
        Occasionally the central pole judders due to lateral forces on it. If so, the demo is full of failures.

        And I think you'll find every monopod robot ever built has utilised air time in order to maintain balance and change position. Cue mentions of MIT back in the 90s...
  • jesus my ears are bleeding.

  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Wednesday August 17, 2011 @05:47PM (#37123742)

    That's the thing I just don't get with robot design. Why do we feel the need to give it bipedal locomotion? I could see a necessity for legs instead of wheels (more terrain mobility and all), but why not put it on four legs? Or six? And don't gimme that "so it has its arms free" explanation. We are not nature. We do not have to make the choice between arms and legs, we can have both on our robot.

    • because we are (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Chirs ( 87576 ) on Wednesday August 17, 2011 @05:53PM (#37123794)

      Our environment is designed for human-sized bipedal forms, so it makes a certain amount of sense to design robots that are generally the same size/shape. That way they can use our buildings, elevators, stairs, appliances, etc.

      • Re:because we are (Score:5, Insightful)

        by EvilJoker ( 192907 ) on Wednesday August 17, 2011 @06:01PM (#37123876)

        Additionally, the research may serve a purpose to humans - one easy example is that it may help create better artificial legs/etc, such as for wounded soldiers.

        • by radtea ( 464814 )

          one easy example is that it may help create better artificial legs/etc, such as for wounded soldiers.

          It may also create sufficient prosperity that irrational nutjobs think that the best solution to perceived scarcity is to destroy things and kill people are finally laughed at when they proclaim their idiotic "solutions" to problems no one actually has.

      • Re:because we are (Score:5, Informative)

        by dbc ( 135354 ) on Wednesday August 17, 2011 @06:07PM (#37123918)

        Yes, exactly. I was going to say this. In order for robots to melt into the background in office or home environments, the robot has to adapt to *our* environment, not us changing around our world to fit the robots. I'm extremely picky about getting my computer set up just the way I like it, because computers should serve *me*, not the other way around. Same goes for robots. I don't want to rebuild my home or office for the convenience of robots.

        I do a lot of homebrew robotics. I, and everyone else, brings robots to club meetings in a motley assortment of tubs, bins, and cartons, and big robots go int the back of pick up trucks. -- bah, how primitive. A home service robot needs to be easy to transport. That means it has to fit in my car, exactly where a human would sit, without any accommodation. It needs to get to the second floor by going up the stairs, not by some "robot service elevator" put in just for it. So I think in the end we need to have a robust bi-pedal robot platform that folds in the same places that humans do and is human scale, because the world is built to human scale and built for beings that fold where humans do. Robots will only be useful when they can operate in our world without us having to remodel the world for robots.

        Bi-pedal robots aren't worth pursuing for anthropomorphism -- bi-pedal robots are worth pursuing because they could fit easily into our world and disappear into the background.

        • by joh ( 27088 )

          Bi-pedal robots aren't worth pursuing for anthropomorphism -- bi-pedal robots are worth pursuing because they could fit easily into our world and disappear into the background.

          Wouldn't something like a dog do this much better?

          • by Chirs ( 87576 )

            How would something like a dog cook your food, serve you drinks, put away your groceries, or turn on your light switches?

            • by fyngyrz ( 762201 )

              ...and c'mon, just admit it. You'd feel funny screwing something shaped like a dog, even if it was in a French maid outfit...

          • Real dogs are 10x more agile than humans 4 legs and all. Still they can't open doors or clean a counter.

        • All fine and nice, but shouldn't we first of all try to get a robot of whatever kind going and work from there? We spend a nontrivial amount of time trying to get them to walk upright, shouldn't we first of all get the "helpful" part into it before we hammer out the details?

          I'm pretty sure someone who needs the assistance and can afford it would rather rebuild parts of his home to accommodate a helper robot rather than not having one 'cause we first of all want to make it perfect.

        • by nege ( 263655 )

          Also because I don't want to have sex with something designed like the Crushinator. My sex bot gotta be 36-24-36 and have both legs. ...3 boobs is fine though.

      • by joh ( 27088 )

        But for some tasks things like this robot dog [youtube.com] look much more capable and it's also a bit easier to do (obviously, this video is from 2008). For military purposes a big robot dog seems to be totally possible.

      • by SnowZero ( 92219 )

        Homes are the only thing that are still designed solely for bipeds. The public world is already mostly ADA compliant:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Americans_with_Disabilities_Act_of_1990#Title_III_-_Public_Accommodations_.28and_Commercial_Facilities.29 [wikipedia.org]
        (other countries have similar laws, some even more comprehensive)

        I'd happily modify my house somewhat to accommodate robots (door handles, rails for climbing).

        IMHO walking is not what is keeping robots out of our homes and our lives. It may be

      • by nege ( 263655 )

        I don't want them using my buildings, elevators, stairs, appliances. Robots are second class citizens, and they can build their own hovels at the outskirts of town!!! This water fountain is carbon based only! :D

  • and it reminds me of that freaky 80's Herbie Hancock video, "Rockit". Still gives me the shivers...

  • Always mount a scratch robot if the DEC service Representative is going to be working on things.
  • If MABEL is not an acronym then why the fuck is it in all-caps?

  • Look, here's Toyota's robot running. It's brief, but both feet do leave the floor for brief intervals. And instead of a support beam holding it to a fixed track, it uses this stuff called "feet" and a "sense of balance" to stay upright. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sv35ItWLBBk [youtube.com]
  • Mabel - Whit's End (Score:1, Interesting)

    by sayno2quat ( 1651749 )
    The first thing that comes to my mind is Adventures in Odyssey, which is a Christian radio broadcast. Whit, a main character and inventor, has a really advanced computer program with a voice interface named Mabel (kind of like Jarvis from Iron Man).
  • That is interesting. It is actually decently forward balancing during the run and even when the mat slipped a bit it kept going.
  • A most crucial part of walking and running is feet with ankles. Without that, it's "something else." By adding feet, they are going to change just about everything about the machine and how it would operate. If they want to have human-like walking, then there must be feet and they should never have gone forward with this "internediate" step as adapting might be just as difficult as starting over.

    What they have there is a backward-walking "pan" robot...without feet.

  • As impressive as this may be, it still makes me feel like we have an awful lot of explaining to do to the likes of Jules Verne, Nicola Tesla, Isaac Asimov etc. Surely they would have imagined the state of the art of robotica in 2011 to be... different

  • Does it run like I run with QWOP?

  • I feel sorry for the office/lab below them...
  • What good will your sex robots be if they can run away from you?
  • Is it just me, or does MABEL sound like a Cylon when she's walking/running?
  • It's nice that they're doing this, but it's a bit late to be doing a planar walking/running machine. (It's supported so that it can't fall sideways, so it's a 2D balancing system instead of a 3D one, and is considered "planar", although it's going in a circle.) Compare Spring Flamingo [mit.edu], 1996-2000 at MIT.

    This group doesn't seem to be addressing slip control or hills (which I've worked on), or twist control (first addressed by Jessica Hodgkins at Georgia Tech and by Honda). As soon as you go beyond flat,

  • Does anyone else thinks it looks like a pair of fingers running around? I mean, I can totally emulate the movement with my hand.

  • who heard Herbie Hancock's "Rockit" in my head while watching the video with sound off?

  • replaced the whale that chases me in my nightmares.
  • Black Label?
    (No, not Johnny Walker. Go look up ad jingles from the '70's)

  • don't get me wrong, this is an impressive technical feat (i suppose) but what is this obsession with imitating human bodies? where does the idea come from that humans are like the epitaph of efficiency and evolution ? Is it a religious thing, do all scientists have this urge to be bigger than their gods or something? Why not create something that surpasses, humans have no need for physical evolution since we have been living in symbiosis with external tools for, for exactly how long ? If evolution kills of

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