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One Small Step for Schmedly. . .

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Schmedly, the walking robot shown here, stands about three feet tall, weighs 25 pounds, and has a disembodied brain in the form of a desk- top computer. While Schmedly is not the first walking robot, it is the first to learn to walk by experience, according to its inventor, Tom Miller, an engineer at the University of New Hampshire. Unlike other walking robots, Schmedly doesn’t follow a rigid program. Miller gives the robot a minimum of instructions--it knows, for example, to take its weight off a foot before lifting it, then move the foot forward, set it down, and repeat with the other foot. But Schmedly has to figure out how far to lean, how high to lift its feet, and where to put its hips in relation to its feet. To that end, the robot has four sensors on each foot that tell it exactly how much weight each part of the foot bears. Schmedly also has an inner ear for balance, in the form of accelerometers that measure gravity and motion. The robot’s gait is quite different from a human’s, and a spotter is on hand to catch it in the inevitable event of a fall. It has a drunken sailor look, says Miller. It sways a lot.

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