Mini humanoid robots are beginning to walk more like people
While there are several humanoid robot kits available to hobbyists, most of them leave much to be desired when it comes to walking the way we do. The fact that they can move on two feet at all is pretty cool, but most simply bend their knees and make a series of quick little steps, resulting in a gait which looks like they're shuffling rather than really walking. Professional roboticists and programmers are now beginning to show some improvements that are worth seeing in action.
Masahiko Yamaguchi is a roboticist who has worked at Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, Boston Dynamics, and Osaka University. In the past, he has programmed a slightly modified Kondo KHR-3HV (a popular commercially-available kit) to ride a bicycle, walk a tightrope, and balance on stilts. He has been working on a walking algorithm for more than a year.
His latest update is arguably the most lifelike walking achieved on a miniature hobby-level biped robot to date. The robot demonstrates straight-legged heel-to-toe walking, a stark contrast to the standard gait where a robot's knees are bent and its feet land parallel to the ground with each step. On his website, he says the robot is currently unable to turn left and right with this gait due to a missing yaw axis in the hip joints, but that he is already working on a turning method.
Wataru Yoshizaki is another professional programmer who recently demonstrated more human-like walking with a different miniature biped. He's the developer of V-Sido (pronounced bushido), real-time robot control software that has been used in conjunction with Microsoft's Kinect sensor to control hobby robots as well as the monstrous mecha Kuratas.
This time the software has been used in conjunction with an original robot design that makes use of hobby-level servos and parts, which appears to be one of the Dancing Doll robots. Like Yamaguchi's robot, this one demonstrates straight-legged walking but does not walk heel-to-toe. However, it can walk over small bumps and can be guided by the hand.
These two projects, which appeared on YouTube just a few weeks apart, are still far out of reach for the average hobbyist. However, perhaps Kondo Kagaku (which puts out the parts used in these robots) will hire these programmers to help them build the next generation of its hobby kit. They're preceded by the work of Tomotaka Takahashi, who developed a silky-smooth gait for his miniature robots called SHIN-Walk several years ago.