Keith Buffinton

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LEWISBURG, Pa. – A National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Opportunity Award (ROA) recently took Keith Buffinton, professor of mechanical engineering at Bucknell, to Ohio State and Stanford to work on creating a bipedal robot that is more agile than predecessors like Honda’s well-known “Asimo.”

Buffinton collaborated with Stanford Professor Ken Waldron and Alex Perkins, a Stanford Ph.D. student and Bucknell graduate. Buffinton helped to develop mathematical models that simulate the behavior of two-legged running robots.

The models assist in choosing optimal components and figuring out the best way to control the robots so they respond well to uneven and uncertain terrain.

"Humans and other legged creatures are quite good at making their way through environments in which they must step around and over obstacles,” said Buffinton. “The ultimate goal of our bipedal robot project is to produce a robot with similar capabilities.”

Engineering for human environment
Attempting to build a robot that more closely mimics human agility has more to do with practicality than it does with “playing God.” Man-made environments like homes and offices are constructed with two-legged beings in mind, so an agile bipedal robot would have an obvious advantage.

"Current bipedal robots are designed to be very stable and, as a result, do not have the agility that humans do," said Buffinton. "The goal of our project is to model, analyze, and develop a robot that can execute 'truly dynamic movements such as running, jumping, turning, starting rapidly, and stopping suddenly.'"

Buffinton and Perkins (Class of 2005) have maintained the type of exceptionally close faculty-student relationship that is characteristic of Bucknell. They crossed paths in courses, campus organizations, projects, research, and even co-authored and presented papers in Cambridge, Mass., and Osaka, Japan.

Bucknell connection
“Working with Alex again at Stanford, where I did my Ph.D., was truly a pleasure. Alex is very bright and is working within a great group of people,” Buffinton said.

While at Stanford, Buffinton also visited the labs where two other Bucknell mechanical engineering graduates, Jen Bower and Craig Beal, are working on their doctorates.

This particular ROA was specifically developed for schools like Bucknell, and is only available to faculty at "predominantly undergraduate institutions" who are interested in working with current recipients of NSF funding.

The award included about $20,000 for support, travel, and overhead as a supplement to the grant Waldron had received to study "dynamic movement in bipedal locomotion" at Stanford.

Posted June 12, 2007

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