Out of the Sano Lab at the Nagoya Institute of Japan, researchers have created a gravity-powered robot that walks much like a human, without batteries or an internal computer controlling its movements. With a maximum walking speed of 3.3 km per hour, it’s not going to win any races, but it keeps this stride for long periods of time.
Powered by gravity, the BlueBiped robot is a Guinness World Record holder for walking 13 continuous hours without human intervention. This 100,000 step walk spanned over nine miles and started with a simple push.
The BlueBiped really only works going downhill, as it lacks any forward momentum uphill or on a flat plane. This is due to the slight forward lean that encourages its aluminum legs to swing forward in a constant walking motion.
Long-term plans for the BlueBiped include a commercial version thanks to a partnership with System Instruments. Before you wonder what exactly a powerless legbot could actually bring to the table, it’s important to consider the health applications involved with a working exoskeleton structure.
Previous robotic support projects have yielded limited results in practical applications. The Hybrid Assistive Limb (HAL), also being developed in Japan, is a powered exoskeletal device that is intended to improve physical capability in the disabled. The difference between HAL prototypes and the BluBiped are mostly found in size. Walking with the help of BlueBiped could be done within a relatively thin aluminum frame, while HAL is a much bulkier powered exoskeleton currently being designed to restore and improve full-body movement.
The science behind BlueBipod could see applications in other areas, as well. For example, the idea of utilizing gravity-assisted power for travel could result in a new phase of thinking for robotic scientists. A more energy-efficient robotic device allows for smaller and lighter batteries. The science of prosthetics may also benefit from the kind of natural motion and efficiency found in the BlueBiped.
Who knows what this incredible and simple prototype could unlock in the future? Sano Lab hopes to have a commercial version available to the public within the next 1-2 years. Time will tell just what they manage to come up with.