Public Release: 

Bipedal bots to star at AAAS media briefing

Novel, energy frugal robots walk like we do

National Science Foundation

A video press release is available here.

The Cornell passive-dynamic powered bipedal robot. Credit: Cornell University
Click here for a high resolution photograph.

In a Feb. 17 media briefing at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), members of three independent research teams will jointly unveiling a new breed of energy-efficient, two-legged, powered robots with a surprisingly human gait. The studies will be published in the journal Science on Feb. 18, 2005.

Researchers from Cornell University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and their colleagues from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, will display footage of all three bipedal robots and demonstrate the MIT biped.

"These innovations are a platform upon which others will build," says Michael Foster, NSF expert on computer and information science and engineering and one of the managers who oversaw this research. "This is the foundation for what we may see in robotic control in the future."

By applying concepts rooted in "passive-dynamic walkers"--devices that can walk down a shallow slope powered only by the pull of gravity--the engineers have crafted robots that, in the case of the Cornell biped, can walk on level ground yet use as little as one-half the wattage of a standard compact fluorescent bulb.

"The biped walking mechanism in robots is limited by on-board battery power," says Junku Yuh, NSF expert on intelligent systems, who also oversaw the research. "The Cornell team's passive mechanism helps greatly reduce the power requirement. Their work is very innovative."

Representing fundamental developments in computer and mechanical control, the robots are helping researchers understand bipedal motion and revealing processes that underlie human locomotion and motor learning. Applications are already on the horizon, with one researcher exploring how the new approach to robotics can aid development of increasingly energy-efficient prosthetic devices.

"This is a perfect example of a single concept yielding benefits in a variety of fields, including medicine," says NSF program officer Gil Devey, an NSF expert on disabilities research who also oversaw the projects.

The MIT walker provides a platform to study motor learning with a passive-dynamic design. In simple terms, the robot can teach itself to walk in as little as 10 minutes, adapting to terrain as it moves.

"This project is about the fundamentals of control," says Foster. "The researchers have combined our developing knowledge of computerized control with mechanical principles that the world provides for us and shown that we can integrate the two."

All three robots verify a long-held hypothesis that suggests motors can substitute for gravity in passive-dynamic walking devices. A slope is not required, only careful engineering.

Reporters interested in attending the press briefing should go to the Taft Room, Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, Washington, D.C. Please arrive no later than 9:45 am to obtain a badge for the briefing. Be prepared to show a photo ID and press credentials.

A companion press release from Cornell University can be found at: .ws.html

A companion press release from MIT, and additional images, can be found at:


Co-authors for the paper, "Efficient bipedal robots based on passive-dynamic walkers," are Steve Collins, Mechanical Engineering, University of Michigan; Andy Ruina, Theoretical and Applied Mechanics, Cornell University; Russ Tedrake, Brain and Cognitive Sciences, MIT; and Martijn Wisse, Mechanical Engineering Delft University of Technology.

The Cornell robot was developed by Steven Collins with suggestions from Andy Ruina. The MIT robot was developed by Russ Tedrake and Teresa Weirui Zhang with help from Ming-fai Fong and Derrick Tan in the lab of H. Sebastian Seung. The Delft robot was developed by Martijn Wisse and Jan van Frankenhuyzen, with help from Arend Schwab.

In addition to NSF support, the research was funded in part by the Dutch Technology Foundation (Stichting Technische Wetenschappen - STW) and the Packard Foundation.

NSF Award: BES-9806612 (ENG)

NSF Award: CCF-0122419 (CISE)

NSF Award: IIS-0413139 (CISE)

Media Contacts
Dena Headlee, NSF (703) 292-8070
Joshua A. Chamot, NSF (703) 292-8070
Bill Steele, Cornell University (607) 255-7164
Ginger Pinholster, AAAS/Science (202) 326-6421
Elizabeth Thomson, MIT News Office (617) 258-5402
Sherry Lassiter, NSF/MIT Center for Bits and Atoms (617) 253-4651
Sonja Knols-Jacobs, Dutch Technology Foundation, STW +15 30 600 1298
Maarten van der Sanden, Delft University of Technology +31 15 278 5454 M.C.A.vanderSanden@TUDelft.NL

Video news release and b-roll package available Contact Dena Headlee, (703) 292-7734,

Program Contacts
Junku Yuh, NSF (703) 292-8930
Gilbert Devey, NSF (703) 292-7943
Michael J. Foster, NSF (703) 292-8910

Andy Ruina, Cornell University (607) 255-7108
Steven Collins, University of Michigan (734) 763-5302
Russ Tedrake, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (617) 324-4307
Martijn Wisse, Delft University of Technology +31 - 15 - 2786

Related Websites
NSF/MIT Center for Bits and Atoms:
Steve Collins homepage:
Andy Ruina homepage:
Russ Tedrake homepage:
Martijn Wisse homepage:

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