Engineers at the University of Michigan have created the world’s fastest bipedal robot with knees. With a surprisingly human-like gait and a top speed of 6.8 miles per hour, MABEL looks like “a real runner.”

Watch MABEL run here:

“We envision some extraordinary potential applications for legged robot research: exoskeletons that enable wheelchair-bound people to walk again or that give rescuers super-human abilities, and powered prosthetic limbs that behave like their biological counterparts,” said developer Jonathan Hurst in the University of Michigan press release. Hurst is now an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering at Oregon State University.

Researchers created MABEL in 2008 and, like a toddler, the robot walked before it ran. Engineers then refined algorithms to improve the robot’s balance and reaction to its environment in real time. In July 2011, MABEL went for its first real jog. With weight balanced like a human, MABEL is in the air 40 percent of each stride, whereas other running robots are in the air 10 percent of the time.

The benefit of a bipedal robot like MABEL its ability to function in environments designed for humans.

“If you would like to send in robots to search for people when a house is on fire, it probably needs to be able to go up and down stairs, step over the baby’s toys on the floor, and maneuver in an environment where wheels and tracks may not be appropriate,” said Jessy Grizzle, University of Michigan professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

See how MABEL can accommodate a step here:

Though MABEL is currently a headless robot, perhaps it may someday be combined with the head of the robot we introduced you to yesterday that can read, sing and is beginning to learn human expression.

So, these robots can read and run, but can they save trapped miners? Yup. Take a look at this new one. Developed to be a first responder for trapped miners, it can go in before rescuers and assess the situation and help develop a rescue plan.

[H/T Popular Science]

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