Creating systems that are energy autonomous is a key goal in the development of robotics, and this new walking prototype from Japan's Nagoya Institute of Technology (NIT) is a big step in the right direction. To some, calling this device a robot may be a bit of a stretch, especially since it lacks electricity, motors or computers of any kind, but its entry into the Guinness Book of Records last year shows it can certainly go the distance with its weight as the only motive force.
"This robot is walking down a slope, and its only source of power is potential energy," said NIT's Kazuki Iwatsuki. "It doesn't use any kind of motor or control, so we think it's very environmentally friendly." Indeed, the device adeptly mimics the human gait, which is essentially a "controlled fall."
NIT's topless biped entered the record books after logging 100,000 steps on a gently-sloping treadmill in a test session. Over a 13-hour period, the device traveled the equivalent distance of 9.3 miles (15 km).
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"The robot has three main parts: thighs, lower legs, and ankles," Iwatsuki explained. "It's made of aluminum, and it contains only mechanical components, which have been adjusted so that the robot has the same thigh and leg lengths as a person, and weighs the same."
Plans are in the works to commercially develop the prototype for a number of possible uses in 1-2 years. While no price point is yet available, some of the biped's possible uses might include a prosthetic walking aid for the partially disabled and as a training assist for various athletes. No doubt the military has a wary eye on the development, as well. That's one small step for a robot, one giant leap for robotics.
Check out the videos below to see the biped in action. The second shows a foam-clad female (Blue-Biped) version walking along with just a gentle assist from behind.