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Falling with style: If bots can master it, why can’t I?

Submitted by on Thursday, 21 May 2009 No Comment

On one level, it’s simple: When you’re about to fall, just let go and fall. Trying to stop the tumble or, even worse, flailing your arms and legs as you land will make it worse.

Somewhere between my step backward off a three-foot ladder last summer and hitting the ground, I forgot all that. Ouch!

Scientists in Chile, though, think they can program the skill into robots. Soccer-playing robots no less, which means they also should work on the code to make the bot willingly take a blow to the head from a ball.

It’s all in the math, according to an article at newscientist.com: The robot will calculate how much damage a fall is likely to cause, given the speed with which it crashes, the forces and torques the fall would create in its joints and its position relative to the ground. The robot then would pick the best way to fall – the one that would generate the least damage.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know all that from my misspent youth in the theater and learning how to take a tumble on stage. I just can’t remember it under the deadline pressure of zeroing in rapidly on the ground below. Bully for the bots if they can.

Because they’re soccer bots, though, the development triggered a discussion on slashdot as to whether the more important skill is knowing how to fall or knowing how to fall and pin the blame on someone else.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reerved.

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