Robot legs walk in 'biological' manner

July 6, 2012 at 7:19 PM
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TUCSON, July 6 (UPI) -- U.S. robotics scientists say they've produced a set of robot legs they believe is the first to walk in a biologically accurate manner.

Researchers say the legs have allowed them to investigate the processes underlying walking in humans and may bolster theories of how babies learn to walk. The research could also help scientists understand how spinal cord-injury patients can recover the ability to walk, the Institute of Physics said in a release Friday.

Human walking relies on something called the central pattern generator. The neural network in the lumbar region of the spinal cord generates rhythmic muscle signals it controls by gathering information from different parts of the body responding to the environment, allowing people to walk without needing to think about it.

The neural architecture, musculoskeletal architecture and sensory feedback pathways in humans have been simplified and built into the robot, the researchers said.

The robot contains an artificial pattern generator, knows as a half-center, as well as sensors that deliver information back to it, including load sensors that sense force in the limb when the leg is pressed against a stepping surface.

"Interestingly, we were able to produce a walking gait, without balance, which mimicked human walking with only a simple half-center controlling the hips and a set of reflex responses controlling the lower limb," study co-author Theresa Klein of the University of Arizona said.

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