What happens when you outfit a robot with a pair of prosthetic blades and fourteen artificial, pneumatic-powered muscles? You end up with a bipedal humanoid who researchers hope will have the ability to run like a sprinter.
Simply referred to as Athlete, it is the pet project of Japanese researcher Ryuma Niiyama, who began working on the mecha-sprinter while completing his PhD at the University of Tokyo (he's since moved onto post-doctorate work at MIT). According to IEEE, Athlete has seven muscles in each leg, and each of those muscles has anywhere from one to six actuators, providing enough air power to replicate our own muscle system. In addition, the robot is outfitted with touch sensors on each foot, and an inertial metering system to help it stay upright.
Currently, Niiyama and his team are busy trying to teach the robot how to run, which involves analyzing the timing and patterns in which human muscle sets contract and relax. Right now, Athlete can only cover about three steps (at 1.2 meters/sec) before collapsing, which, BTW, is up there with the Big Dog on the creepiness scale. Niiyama hopes to get Athlete out on a real track someday. [IEEE]