Scientists creating very fast robotic ostrich legs


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How do you create the world’s fastest two-legged robot? One idea is to look to the animal kingdom.

That’s what Johnny Godowski did when he first conceived of FastRunner, a two-legged robot modeled on an ostrich, which researchers say will be able to reach speeds of up to 27 mph.


That’s still slower than a biological ostrich, which can sprint in short bursts up to 43 mph, and maintain a steady speed of 31 mph.

Godowski works for the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, where he is both ‘research associate’ and ‘ostrich investigator.’ He was the idea originator of FastRunner, a joint project between IHMC and MIT.

‘The reason we chose the ostrich, even over the kangaroo, is because the ostrich is doing the fastest running in a way that is also efficient,’ Godowski said in an interview with The Times. ‘When most animals run faster they also bounce higher, and kangaroos show us that limit. But the ostriches move their legs back and forth super quickly without lifting them that high off the ground.’

The result is an animal that runs quickly without using an exorbitant amount of energy.

FastRunner is still in the early phases of development. Only 40% of the mechanical design is complete, and one full-scale leg has been machined with rapid prototyping techniques. But scientists have been able to show in simulation that the robot can go from a standing position to 20 mph in 15 seconds. The FastRunner can also handle gentle slopes.

Now, why does the world need a super fast bipedal robot?

The answer is maneuverability. On its Web page about biologically inspired robots, IHMC puts it like this: ‘Although a quadrupedal robot offers increased stability, a bipedal robot has the potential to match some of the impressive mobility capabilities of a human.’

Godowski answered the question this way: ‘The reason DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) is funding this is so that we can make search and rescue robots. These robots could go into war zones to deliver supplies or into buildings that are on fire. And the efficiency of the robots like the one we are building mean they could be where they need to be in 24 minutes, rather than 24 hours.’

For comparison’s sake, here’s video of an actual ostrich running:


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-- Deborah Netburn