Robots walk like men, as described in news@nature and Science, vol 307, p1082, 18 February 2005.

Three robots designed and built by teams of scientists and engineers from Cornell University, New York, the Massachusetts institute of Technology (MIT) and Delft University of Technology are able to walk in a stable, human-like manner using a system called “passive dynamics”. This is a method of using gravity rather than motors to make the robots’ legs swing back into place after each step. This means the robots use far less energy than previously developed robots, which used motors for all joint movements.

The robot from MIT is also the first walking machine to use a learning program to enable it to adapt to variations in surface it is walking on. Andy Ruina, an engineer at Cornell University says the robots will help scientists develop better artificial limbs that take less effort to walk on.

Editorial Comment: Human beings are able to walk upright with great efficiency because our muscles, bones and joints also happen to be designed to make use of gravity. We also can adapt to variations in the surface because we also have a built-in learning program in our brains that constantly monitors our movements along with information about the environment and makes adjustments.

News@nature used the word “created” when identifying the scientists who designed and built the robots. They should be prepared to use that word when reporting on the more complex engineering seen in living organisms. At the risk of repeating a point once too often, we must say, if scientists are able to use this robot technology to make better artificial limbs they will have proven it takes creative intelligence to design and build functioning limbs.

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