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Machines Like Us

Dexter Walks

Wednesday, 28 February 2007

The world's first dynamically balancing biped robot takes his first steps. A company called Anybots (basically three smart guys and a machine shop) has demonstrated a biped robot that balances dynamically as it walks, the way we do. Called Dexter, the robot is unlike anything ever before made.

Other biped robots have been built -- Honda's Asimo is the most famous. But Asimo's walk is programmed; it doesn't balance dynamically. If it walked five times along the same path, it would place its feet down in exactly the same place every time. And in order to accomplish this, the surface it walks on must be flat and solid.

The way we walk, however, is much more difficult. We're good at it and aren't conscious of the complexities, but it's really a controlled fall. If a robot's center of gravity moves just a few centimeters from being centered over the foot (or feet) on the ground, it just can't move its limbs fast enough to recover. Crash!

According to Trevor Blackwell, founder and CEO of Anybots, it was not until this month that Dexter could even lift one foot off the ground without falling over. The breakthrough was to dramatically improve the robot's sense of where its center of gravity was. Since none of the commercial gyroscopes he tried was good enough, he built his own. It also helped to make Dexter's feet lighter, and outfit them with Vans (no kidding). Now, a few weeks later, Dexter is an excellent walker. Blackwell is even working on the means to take him outdoors.

Before long Anybots will have to take outside money in order to grow. Perhaps a large company might be willing to pay Anybots' operating costs in exchange for a license to use what they develop, or they could pursue government grants, or raise venture capital. At any rate, we can be assured that in the future we'll see dynamically balancing biped robots among us.

Visit Anybots -- Watch Dexter Video