No Big Deal, Just a Robot Walking Around Campus

Of course, he's in a harness and trailing batteries, but still. 
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Here we see MARLO, a robot, walking at the University of Michigan.  

First he walks inside, then he moves outside, though still supported by a safety harness and trailing batteries.

The robot is a creation of engineering professor Jessy Grizzle at the University of Michigan and his colleagues, who have been making steady progress on walking robots for nearly a decade. 

MARLO is the third-generation bipedal robot of this type. The first was a Franco-German walking bot named Rabbit, which was retired in 2005. It reminds me of the bottom of a satyr.

The second was named MABEL. MABEL could run at a nine-minute mile pace, but only on a circular track. 

And now we have MARLO, which is the first of these walking bots to attempt to move in 3D space, without being attached to lateral support.

It's not an easy task: Just ask any toddler. 

MARLO's video debuted on a day when the New York Times' John Markoff revealed that Google has quietly purchased seven robotics companies in their own efforts to reinvent the humanoid robot.

Among the companies are Schaft, a small team of Japanese roboticists who recently left Tokyo University to develop a humanoid robot, and Industrial Perception, a start-up here that has developed computer vision systems and robot arms for loading and unloading trucks. Also acquired were Meka and Redwood Robotics, makers of humanoid robots and robot arms in San Francisco, and Bot & Dolly, a maker of robotic camera systems that were recently used to create special effects in the movie “Gravity.” A related firm, Autofuss, which focuses on advertising and design, and Holomni, a small design firm that makes high-tech wheels, were acquired as well.

The effort is being led by Andy Rubin, a former robotocist who led the Android team. 

Humanoid robots have been an area of fascination for researchers since long before we could actually build them. And even though few people use or encounter bots like Honda's ASIMO or MARLO, we've come a long way since Westinghouse's animatronic ELEKTRO "motoman" from the 1937 World's Fair.

 

 

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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