Inventing robot athletes

The human body is an amazing instrument from an engineering standpoint. Replicating just one part of it proves extremely difficult but these athletic legs show a lot of promise. This is the work of a Japanese researcher named [Ryuma Niiyama]. He’s been working on the design for years, and is now using pneumatic actuators to mimic the muscles in a human leg. The lower portion of the leg uses a spring mechanism that resembles some running prosthetics currently in use. These serve as a spring to store energy and reuse it by bouncing against the ground. He’s trying to teach his robot to use these legs; taking it through a learning process necessary to use the thigh actuators for locomotion and balance. We were surprised at how life-like the motion in the video after the break is. Even when falling down the movements are very life-like.  We thought the movements of Little Dog were real enough to be creepy, and this robot may be close enough to our own mannerisms to fall into the uncanny valley.

[via Bot Junkie]


  1. anon says:

    Looks like he’s using air muscles as seen in other projects. I made a pair of these muscles out of silicon tubing and vinyl sheathing. I was impressed with how strong and resilient they are. The downside is controlling them. The most affordable solution I found was 2x $9 solenoid valves for controlling inflation and venting of each muscle. We got a pair of the muscles working but it was rather obvious that the bulk of all valves would make the robot we were building either way too big or way too expensive. It was a great learning experience though.

  2. DJ Gordinho says:

    it made me cry

  3. dm says:

    I think that the diagram is going to give me nightmares remembering system dynamics.

  4. roboman2444 says:

    hmmm… This learning (and mostly failing to go past 10 meters) reminds me of that QWOP game.

  5. M4CGYV3R says:

    I wish they’d stop claiming ‘progress’ until they get a robot that can stand up on its own. There is nothing indicating progress about yet another robot that falls flat on its face after 3-5 steps.

  6. zool says:

    if we can make balancing robots
    and robot legs
    why can’t we make balanced robot legs?

  7. Simonious says:

    Give it some arms, they really help with balance.

  8. Gregg says:

    Or a tail, tails allow you to balance really well.

    Although that could lead to robo-raptors, mebby I shouldn’t have suggest a tail…..

  9. Dan says:

    Reminds me of the feet attachments from Portal.

  10. Pa55w0rD says:

    I agree they shouldn’t claim “progress” until they can get the robot walk without falling with weapons loaded

  11. paolo spin says:

    well, it was just an awkward fact in nature to have a strange being walking (so good) on 2 (thin) legs.
    and i can hardly imagine the number of neural connections activated to walk on mountain rocks.

    ‘feeling’ is so different from ‘computing’,
    as it is from ‘falling’.

    great video though!

  12. pod says:

    can’t wait for the cyberpunk limbs we are going to get in 20 years, once they develop these kind of projects

  13. cj says:

    I winced when the torso fell, and was actually thinking ‘ow, that’s hard on the kneecaps.’. Empathy is often not your friend.

  14. dcd says:

    I’d have to agree with M4CGYV3R.

    This is progress:

  15. Shaun says:

    Agreed…they have not floored me with the progress made…unless the creepy little robot thing had been DRINKING and that was a stumbling drunk SIM…then it rocked.

  16. Eirinn says:


    Weapons? I guess we’re just that different cause my first thought was “arms and head”. Followed by “service robots helping the elderly”. But i guess a few miniguns and a flamethrower would be interesting too.

  17. Dante says:

    the movement look like a real human leg!!!

  18. Gert says:
  19. Kea says:

    Give it feet, the human foot isnt just a nub for walking on, it helps balance us by using the muscles in it, sure humans can walk without the aid of the foot but it makes it a LOT easier.

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