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Researchers from the University of Michigan have developed a robot capable of walking down steep slopes and traversing uneven ground. Robots traditionally struggle with slopes and rough terrain, but the team has demonstrated a model that is far better at withstanding these natural conditions while maintaining its stability.

“The robot has no feeling in her tiny feet, but she senses the angles of her joints – for instance, her knee angles, hip angles and the rotation angle of her torso,” Professor Jessy Grizzle, who worked on the project, told E&T. “It’s like walking blindfolded and on stilts.”

The robot, dubbed ‘Marlo’, is Grizzle’s first device that can walk and fall in any direction, known as 3D walking. The main controller handles the forward and backward motion and balance, while a second controller handles side-to-side balance.

The team created a library of 15 gaits to handle different walking speeds and ground heights. Each gait is optimised for maximum efficiency, which has the added effect of making the movement seem natural rather than robotic.

Marlo steps blindly, sensing the changes in ground height and adjusts its gait appropriately for the terrain and speed while blending gaits from the library to fit its environment.

Although impressive, the approach has inherent limitations as the robot cannot make quick turns or sideways movements.

The robot has been tested in a number of environments including walking through snow, down a steep hill, and on randomly stacked plywood squares covered in astroturf.