A two-legged robot at the University of Michigan can run like a human and reach a peak speed of 6.8 miles per hour. MABEL, as the machine is called, is believed to be the world's fastest bipedal robot with knees.
Built in 2008 with funding from the National Science Foundation and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, MABEL has been in "training" for the last few years.
Researchers have been progressively improving the feedback algorithms that keep the bipedal robot balanced while reacting to its environment in real time.
It's weight is distributed like a person's and it has a heavier torso and light, flexible legs with springs that act like tendons. Whereas other speed-walking robots achieve a flight phase--when both feet are off the ground--for less than 10 percent of each step, MABEL is in the air for 40 percent of each stride, much like a human.
"We envision some extraordinary potential applications for legged robot research: exoskeletons that enable wheelchair-bound people to walk again or that give rescuers super-human abilities, and powered prosthetic limbs that behave like their biological counterparts," said Jonathan Hurst, now an assistant professor at Oregon State University, who helped create the robot.
The advantage of two-legged robots with good running form would give them an edge over wheeled-bots in rough terrain and inside places built for humans. They could one-day serve as robotic soldiers or rescuers, the engineers say.
"The robotics community has been trying to come up with machines that can go places where humans can go, so a human morphology is important," said Jessy Grizzle, a U-M professor.
In the video below, the bar that MABEL is attached to guides it in a circular path. Also, you'll see it speed up and then abruptly slow down several times on purpose.