Boy robot passes agility tests

The machine ‘sweats’ to keep the motors of its muscles cool

humanoid robot

LIKE LIFE  A flexible robot named Kengoro can stretch and do such exercises as push-ups and sit-ups.

Y. Asano, K. Okada and M. Inaba/Science Robotics 2017

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Robots are on their way to passing gym class.

The design of a new life-size bot named Kengoro closely resembles the anatomy of a teenage boy in body proportion, skeletal and muscular structure, and joint flexibility, researchers report online December 20 in Science Robotics. Compared with previous humanoid robots with more rigid, bulky bodies, Kengoro’s anatomically inspired design gives the bot a wide range of motion to perform humanlike, full-body exercises.

Constructed by Masayuki Inaba, an engineer at the University of Tokyo, and colleagues, Kengoro has a multi-jointed spine that allows the robot to curl into a sit-up or do back extensions. The bot’s arms are limber enough to execute various stretches or swing a badminton racket. And its artificial muscles are strong enough that Kengoro can stand on tiptoe or do push-ups. Batteries in each leg power Kengoro through about 20 minutes of exercise at a time, and water seeping from inside Kengoro’s metal skeleton like sweat keeps the motors of the artificial muscles cool while the bot works out.

Such a nimble robot that so closely imitates human movement and anatomy is “very unique,” says Luis Sentis, an engineer at the University of Texas at Austin not involved in the work. Building more humanlike robots could lead to the development of more sophisticated prosthetics or more realistic crash-test dummies that make humanlike reflexive movements during an accident. 

TRAINING MONTAGE A humanoid robot named Kengoro, made by researchers at the University of Tokyo, is more limber than past humanoid bots. Its build allows the machine to do sit-ups, push-ups and back extensions, as well as play badminton and stand on its tippy-toes. Y. Asano, K. Okada and M. Inaba/Science Robotics 2017

Previously the staff writer for physical sciences at Science News, Maria Temming is the assistant managing editor at Science News Explores. She has bachelor's degrees in physics and English, and a master's in science writing.

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