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Robot got swagger — human-like stride is more natural and saves energy, too

Robots usually walk like zombies, but maybe not for much longer. Most humanoid robots have had flat feet for stability, which requires a hunched-over posture for balance and a plodding gait. Now a robot called DURUS from Georgia Tech is changing the look, according to Gizmodo. No longer plodding, DURUS walks with a distinct swagger — if it had fingers (or even arms and hands) you might expect it to be snapping them.

DURUS is being developed by the Advanced Mechanical Bipedal Experimental Robotics Lab (AMBER Lab) at the Georgia Institute of Technology. AMBER Lab was founded in 2008 at Texas A&M but moved to Georgia Tech last year. DURUS made it to the final competition of the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) but at the time it, too, had flat feet and used huge amounts of energy walking.

Related: Robots are learning navigation skills by being trained to hunt prey

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has a stake in robotics development for eventual use on and off the battlefield. The latest SRI Robotics DURUS walked two kilometers in over two and a half hours on a full battery charge during the final DRC in 2015, according to IEEE Spectrum. That clearly wouldn’t do for any military use and the challenge was to find a way to improve the speed and distance per charge.

The answer: more natural foot movement. With continued funding from the National Science Foundation’s National Robotics Initiative, AMBER Labs have transformed the DURUS feet and legs. The feet now have arches and soles and complex springs that capture and discharge energy while the robot walks. The DURUS swagger results from its heel striking first then pushing off with its toes — like we do.

“Our robot is able to take much longer, faster steps than its flat-footed counterparts because it’s replicating human locomotion,” said director Georgia Tech’s lab and engineering professor Aaron Ames, according to Engadget.

DURUS isn’t ready for commercial or military applications, and at this point, much more development is needed, but its improved walking is a huge step, and a funky one, too.