Big Dog is being outrun – by an emu-inspired BirdBot

Science reports on a Human Frontier Science Program project that is creating a more stable, more self-controlled walking robot by basing its motion on emus rather than using the “active control” that lets robots walk like big dogs:

Designers of legged robots are challenged with creating mechanisms that allow energy-efficient locomotion with robust and minimalistic control. Sources of high energy costs in legged robots include the rapid loading and high forces required to support the robot’s mass during stance and the rapid cycling of the leg’s state between stance and swing phases. Here, we demonstrate an avian-inspired robot leg design, BirdBot, that challenges the reliance on rapid feedback control for joint coordination and replaces active control with intrinsic, mechanical coupling, reminiscent of a self-engaging and disengaging clutch. A spring tendon network rapidly switches the leg’s slack segments into a loadable state at touchdown, distributes load among joints, enables rapid disengagement at toe-off through elastically stored energy, and coordinates swing leg flexion. A bistable joint mediates the spring tendon network’s disengagement at the end of stance, powered by stance phase leg angle progression. We show reduced knee-flexing torque to a 10th of what is required for a nonclutching, parallel-elastic leg design with the same kinematics, whereas spring-based compliance extends the leg in stance phase. These mechanisms enable bipedal locomotion with four robot actuators under feedforward control, with high energy efficiency. The robot offers a physical model demonstration of an avian-inspired, multiarticular elastic coupling mechanism that can achieve self-stable, robust, and economic legged locomotion with simple control and no sensory feedback. The proposed design is scalable, allowing the design of large legged robots. BirdBot demonstrates a mechanism for self-engaging and disengaging parallel elastic legs that are contact-triggered by the foot’s own lever-arm action.

Emphasis ours.
Found via Science Twitter, which has video of the thing in motion.