The biggest challenge for walking robots used to be staying upright. Now, Boston Dynamics has two four-year DARPA contracts to make its Petman android prototype as agile as its human creators. Most robots utilise static stability, always keeping their centre of mass directly over the support provided by their legs. But to move quickly, the new robot, called Atlas, will practise dynamic stability – instead of reacting to motion, the robot will anticipate how the step changes its balance and compensate by swinging its arms or adjusting its feet.
Boston Dynamics will use Atlas and four-legged robots, such as BigDog (a 2006 PM Breakthrough Award winner) and Cheetah (built to run at speeds of at least 48 km/h), to study robot mobility. Future dynamically stable rescue robots could climb through rubble or crawl into tight spaces to assess building damage or search for survivors. – David Hambling
Off to the robot races
After 54 hours of competition, Robovie-PC prevailed by the slimmest of margins – just 1,7 seconds – in the first-ever robot marathon, held in Osaka, Japan. Five bipedal robots started the 42 km race, but just two finished all 423 laps. It was a contest of endurance over speed: support crews changed batteries and cooled motors with compressed air, but the robots had to pick themselves up when they fell. – AH