Wednesday, March 2, 2011

YouTube sensation MABEL to appear on Discovery Channel

A Discovery Channel Canada crew in Prof. Jessy Grizzle's lab
Photo by Catharine June

MABEL, the robot that walks like a person, got her 15 minutes last year when a video of her breaking a leg in an experiment went viral.

She'll be back in the spotlight soon to redeem herself. The Discovery Channel Canada's science documentary show Daily Planet was in electrical engineering professor Jessy Grizzle's lab last week filming a spot. This was their second visit.

The segment (airdate TBA) will show MABEL's progress in navigating bumpy ground. In MABEL's May 2010 debut, she fails to recover after a 2.5-inch curb. Grizzle says she can hack twice that these days.

"For anyone who thinks this is not so impressive, we keep a set of stilts and a blindfold in the lab and invite them to beat MABEL," Grizzle said. "So far, no one has taken us up on the challenge."

This "step-down test" is a standard way to measure how stable a robot's gait is. In it, the machine has no information about when drops will occur and how far they will be. Watch MABEL navigate a 3.5-inch drop in this video.


The researchers' goal is for the robot to step solidly from a stair height of about seven inches. They'd also like to see her run. Both achievements could help pave the way for robots that can better navigate rough terrain. More than 70 percent of Earth's surface isn't navigable by tracked or wheeled vehicles.

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