When robots walk naturally, it’s all in the hips


Robot researchers have proven what entertainers from Elvis Presley to Miley Cyrus knew all along: The secret is in the hips.

But where Elvis “the Pelvis” gyrated his way to 1950s fame and Cyrus attained instant Internet notoriety with her recent “twerking,” the engineers just wanted to make their robots walk more naturally.

Researchers at Waseda University’s Humanoid Robotics Institute spent hours analyzing how the waist is used to give humans their easy gait. They then tried to mimic this in their creations.

“Most humanoid robots don’t have waist motions . . . so must bend their knees,” giving them an awkward and stilted walk, assistant professor Kenji Hashimoto said Tuesday.

The team’s Wabian-2 has flexible hips that let each leg rotate and mean the robot can walk in a way that closely mimics humans.

“The waist is rolling, and the robot can stretch its knees,” Hashimoto said. The pelvis also twists and moves up and down just as its human counterpart does.

While the Wabian-2 may be a long way from grinding its robot booty on stage, it might help researchers learn more about people.

“In the case of Wabian-2, we want to mimic the human body,” said Hashimoto. “The purpose of developing a humanoid robot is to understand humans.”