MABEL: U-M Robot to the Rescue

9/1/11Follow @XconomyDET

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weight is distributed like a person’s, with a heavier torso and light, flexible legs with springs that act as tendons. MABEL can run as fast as seven miles per hour.

Since MABEL is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), all of the technology, descriptions, algorithms, and plans associated with the project are public domain and posted on the Web.

“I’m not exactly an old hippie, but I still live by the ideal that if you’re working at a university with taxpayer money, you ought to make the technology available to everyone for free,” Grizzle says.

Grizzle says he and his students need to build a good proof of concept, which will hopefully entice someone else to handle the robot’s mass production. In fact, a “big company” recently visited Grizzle’s lab and is interested in doing just that—though he declined to reveal the company’s identity. Grizzle adds that the NSF’s goal is to make sure students who work on the MABEL project emerge highly trained so they can go on to do their own high-tech entrepreneurial work, while DARPA hopes that Boeing or a similar company serving the defense industry will take an interest in commercializing MABEL’s technology.

Grizzle points to this year’s disaster at the Fukushima Nuclear Plant in Japan as exactly the kind of situation where a mechanical first responder could have saved lives.

“A robot could have walked in and shut down the reactors,” Grizzle says. “I think now you’ll see a renewed effort toward machines that can work in much more rugged environments, and MABEL is a good start.”

Sarah Schmid is the editor of Xconomy Detroit. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET

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