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Running robot aims to take on Usain Bolt

Aptly named Athlete, bipedal robot developed in Japan takes a biomechanical approach to running in an attempt to mimic human flexibility and agility.

Run, Athlete, run like the wind.
Video screenshot by Leslie Katz/CNET

We've seen running bipedal robots before, but they tend to move like, well, robots. Ryuma Niiyama of MIT's Robot Locomotion Group wants to build a bot that runs as much like a human as possible, right down to the black nylon running shorts.

The robot, aptly named Athlete, sports an artificial musculoskeletal system that mirrors human muscles in the leg, hip, lower abdomen, and booty and has a springy elastic blade foot like those seen on prosthetic running legs. Niiyama's goal is a flexible, agile robot with less of a mechanical gait and more of a Usain Bolt-type stride.

Athlete has seven sets of actuator-driven artificial muscles in each leg, plus touch sensors on each foot and an inertial measurement unit on the torso for detecting the body's orientation. It does not, as far as we know, take steroids.

Niiyama--who also worked on Mowgli the bipedal jumping robot--developed Athlete as a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Tokyo's Department of Mechano-Informatics along with with colleagues Satoshi Nishikawa and Yasuo Kuniyoshi. They presented their research last week at the IEEE Humanoids 2010 conference in Nashville, Tenn.

But the champion sprinters of the world shouldn't worry just yet. With the aid of a harness hung from the ceiling, Athlete can currently take up to five steps at about 3.9 feet per second, but then it falls down. Hey, robots get muscle cramps too.

(Via IEEE Spectrum)