While some humanoid robots we've reported on recently can walk up stairs or fight fires, researchers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology have developed a "swumanoid" robot they say faithfully mimics human swimming motions for applications that may include more streamlined swimsuits or methods for improving the performance of competitive swimmers. Other uses that come to mind include robots as an aid in physical therapy.
The half-scale swumanoid incorporates 20 waterproof motors that are controlled by a computer to mimic the actions of human swimmers. Tokyo Tech researchers Chung Changhyun and Motomu Nakashima say they developed the robot by carefully analyzing real human swimmers' body movements.
Previous research relied on analyzing video images of human swimmers to monitor their movements, but the researchers say this led to the problem of how to reproduce those movements. That's because this approach depends on the ability of the swimmers to recreate their own movements precisely. It also depends on the ability of researchers to make accurate measurements of the forces that are acting on swimmers' bodies while they are in motion. Both of these tasks have proven extremely difficult to accomplish.
The half-scale swumanoid swimming robot incorporates 20 waterproof motors that are controlled by a computer to mimic the actions of human swimmers. (Source: Tokyo Institute of Technology)
Nakashima and his colleagues at Tokyo Tech previously developed the SWUM (SWimming hUman Model) swimming human simulation model for analyzing the whole-body dynamics of swimmers. Data for body geometry, joint motion, and specific analysis settings are given. The model estimates the fluid force acting on the swimmer's body, solves the equations of motion of the rigid human body, and computes the absolute motion of the whole human body. The developers have created a free implementation of the model called "Swumsuit" that can be downloaded here.
Two of the major issues to resolve have been reducing body resistance to movement through water and increasing the driving force caused by the swimmers' hands and feet. The swumanoid robot enables control of the precise movements and driving forces of the robot swimmer. The robot is half the size of an adult human, but has the same proportions and external features. Twelve of the 20 motors actuate the movements of the arms and one motor turns the waist. Each arm has six degrees of freedom, while the shoulder has four degrees and the elbow has two. Extra joints have been added to the shoulder to reproduce the retraction of the shoulder blade.
The swumanoid demonstrated the accuracy of both hardware and software models by its performance in reproducing the arm motions of the front crawl, which is the most complicated swimming stroke.
Changhyun and Nakashima say that in the future, they want to produce much faster swumanoids and also analyze those robots' movements to develop high-speed swimwear.
Brentlim, as we mention in the article, this research is not theoretical, designed to come up with a generic swimming platform. Instead, it's 100% targeted at sports-related apps, specifically competitive swimmers, and optimized swimsuit design for same.
My thoughts as well. Why look to the human form for a model of a swimming platform? Fascinating project and quite a feat to be able to accomplish, but why not look to a more efficient model for swimming than the human form?
Hello Ann. I definitely will. Robotic systems fascinate me and each year ( if not each month ) there seem to be advancements that just amaze. I definitely will take a look at SWUM and see if I can gain additional information; then I'll certainly will let you know.
This research is aimed 100% at sports-related apps, as stated in the article (competitive swimmers, optimized swimsuit design for same). Not at anything as practical as search-and-rescue, or replacing lifeguards.
Yes, this is basic research stretched to its limits. I guess we never know when something like this could serve as a foundation for a breakthrough in another area, but it's hard to imagine what it could be.
This is a fascinating article and a good report but I must agree with Jerry, it seems to be a misuse of technical resources; i.e. time, money, CFD, etc. Then again, sometimes the greatest break-throughs comes from seemingly trivial pursuits. I think this exercise must be aimed at other than saving lives. I would like to know more about the control methodology and what language was used to program the device.
Having watched hundreds of lifeguard rescues using jet skis here on the Southern California beaches, I don't think any humanoid shape could match that performance. Watch how jet skis take surfers out to huge waves during professional competition, then speed out of the way of the huge wave before it breaks. Also, a skilled person paddling on a surfboard is faster than any human swimmer, as lifeguards also use surfboards for doing rescues.