A robotic leg, born without prior knowledge, learns to walk

ScienceDaily | 3/11/2019 | Staff
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It's an astonishing evolutionary feat that has long inspired biologists and roboticists -- and now a team of USC researchers at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering believe they have become the first to create an AI-controlled robotic limb driven by animal-like tendons that can even be tripped up and then recover within the time of the next footfall, a task for which the robot was never explicitly programmed to do.

Francisco J. Valero-Cuevas, a professor of Biomedical Engineering a professor of Biokinesiology & Physical Therapy at USC in a project with USC Viterbi School of Engineering doctoral student Ali Marjaninejad and two other doctoral students -- Dario Urbina-Melendez and Brian Cohn, have developed a bio-inspired algorithm that can learn a new walking task by itself after only 5 minutes of unstructured play, and then adapt to other tasks without any additional programming.

Article - March - Cover - Article - Nature

Their article, outlined in the March cover article of Nature Machine Intelligence, opens exciting possibilities for understanding human movement and disability, creating responsive prosthetics, and robots that can interact with complex and changing environments like space exploration and search-and-rescue.

"Nowadays, it takes the equivalent of months or years of training for a robot to be ready to interact with the world, but we want to achieve the quick learning and adaptations seen in nature," said senior author Valero-Cuevas, who also has appointments in computer science, electrical and computer engineering, mechanical and aerospace engineering and neuroscience at USC.

Marjaninejad - Candidate - Department - Biomedical - Engineering

Marjaninejad, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at USC, and the paper's lead author, said this breakthrough is akin to the natural learning that happens in babies. Marjaninejad explains, the robot was first allowed to understand its environment in a process of free play (or what is known as 'motor babbling').

"These random movements of the leg allow the robot to build...
(Excerpt) Read more at: ScienceDaily
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