Walking and running is trickier than it looks...

The Cheetah robot, developed by MIT, can now run and jump to avoid obstacles. Credit: MIT.

What's easier than talking a little walk or dashing out to catch the bus? And it is not just us! Animals walk, run, crawling many ways and always making it seem quite easy. Of course, if you happen to have an accident that impair your locomotion you would realise how tricky locomotion is.

Teaching a robot to walk and run, avoiding obstacles by jumping over them has proved very difficult indeed. Researchers at the MIT are looking at Nature to solve this problem and creating robots that can walk and run...

They have created Cheetah, a robot that has been inspired by the fastest animal to run on Earth, and they have made significant progresses in these years. 

To make progress they have studied the physics of walking (and running). It turns out that the goal is to achieve a fine balance between the force of gravity and the force/time of application of the "foot" when touching the ground. 

The percentage of time spent on the ground vs time spent "in the air" is referred to as duty cycle and it turns out the the lower the percentage is the fastest the animal move (if you think about it it makes sense...). The force used to hit the ground needs to balance the force of gravity and the finer the balance the more efficient the locomotion. If you use more force than required you are basically wasting power. On the other hand you need to use more force if you want to jump, but in that case you need to make sure that the excess of power applied is converted into a vertical locomotion.
It is much more then mechanics, although the locomotion is about mechanical movement of parts, it requires a lot of processing of data and smart algorithms...

It is really interesting, at lest to my curious self, to see how much researchers are studying Nature to convert that knowledge into solution to mechanical and computational problems. 

Author - Roberto Saracco

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