Robotic Leg Mimics a Human's By Simulating How We do itTwo-legged walking robots have proven to be a difficult nut to crack. The human gait is two parts chaos, one part control. Basically we're falling forward every single step. Robots have tried to duplicate how we walk, but almsost every single one has failed to do so.
The reason we're so good at it, it turns out, is because we have a small auxiliary neural cluster in the lumbar area of our spine. Our brain, as powerful as it is, sits quite far away from the our feet, and the distance is just too large for our brain to do all the control. So our brain guides us, but our lumbar neurons control the details.
Now we have made a robot that does much the same thing, and for the first time a robot has been made with a reliably human gait without dedicating tons of processing power to the problem, which is how every other walking robot achieves the feat.
The researchers built a simple version of the Central Pattern Generator, the lumbar brain, out of circuitry and connected it to feedback sensors on the robot's leg. The result is a simple walking robot that can scoot across the floor with a little help.
There is still a lot of work to do, and the robot legs still can't support themselves. But this is a great start, one that paves the way for a future where walking robots are cheap and can move with grace and speed around the human environment.