Thursday, September 22, 2011

An 8-inch step down for MABEL is a step up for robotkind

The fastest two-legged robot with knees can now step gracefully down an 8-inch, stair-height platform—blind.

MABEL, which stands for Michigan Anthropomorphic Biped with Electric Legs, has no cameras. The drop she negotiates in this video is a total surprise to her, like when the curb sneaks up on you. And if the curb were 8 inches high, many humans wouldn't be able to recover and hold their footing as well as MABEL does. They'd stumble or twist an ankle, says robotics researcher Jessy Grizzle, a University of Michigan electrical engineering professor and MABEL's owner.

This isn't just cool. It's a useful skill that we'd all expect from the rescue robots of the future. There probably wouldn't be a clear path for machines you might send into a burning building to make sure everyone had escaped. They might have to traverse stairs or maybe step over toys in the living room, Grizzle says.