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Technology

Robot runs like a marathoner but is destined for the factory

High-speed camera keeps the thing leaning forward and not falling over

This is the University of Tokyo's newest marathon runner.   © Not selection

TOKYO -- First Japanese researchers figured out how to link a high-speed camera with a hand robot so that the mechanical beast always wins at rock-paper-scissors.

Now the same team has come up with a similar pairing, but one that allows a bipedal robot to run like a top marathoner. In this case, the detached camera keeps an eye on the robot itself and offers feedback so the mechanical runner can lean forward, just like we humans do while running, but not so far forward that it stumbles. 

The University of Tokyo researchers, led by professor Masatoshi Ishikawa, however, are not trying to come up with an Olympic medalist. Their hope is to put their robot technology to work in factories within three to five years.

Right now, though, their robot runs by bending at the hip, knees and ankles.

Its legs are 14cm long. The whole thing weighs a little less than 1kg. And its top speed is 4.2kph. This is equivalent to one of us Homo sapiens with 70cm- to 80cm-long legs who can run at a 20kph clip or so.

A small yet powerful motor and special coil allow the robot to kick off the ground with each foot and accelerate, land, then kick off and accelerate again.

  © Not selection

The robot's personal surveillance camera can shoot 600 frames per second, which makes it possible to precisely gauge the robot's status and position.

The system has learned the trajectory of a foot when humans are running. If the robot leans too far forward, staggers and nearly falls, the system will tell the robot to immediately step forward, just as humans do.

Other bipedal robots can only manage to slowly walk by using sensors on the bottoms of their "feet" that allow them to take note of what is happening on the ground beneath them.

The University of Tokyo researchers are now working to put high-speed cameras in the arms of factory robots, which would then be able to quickly spot and grab defective products from a fast-moving conveyor belt.

The rock-paper-scissors champion that uses similar technology has the high-speed camera pointed at its human opponent. Perhaps you can see why this janken robot always wins -- it cheats.

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