A method to make a biped robot walk?

I am interested in biped locomotion since 14 years. After lots of physics, mechanics, internship in Delft Biorobotic Laboratory, listening courses about underactuated robotics and conception of my own biped robot, I made a first draft for a method to make a biped robot. I think it can be useful to sum up this method here. Poppy is the robot the most compatible with this method.

The aim of this method is different since the objective is to make the robot walk and then standstill (by absorption of mechanical energy). The method is divided in four parts:

  1. understand limit cycle method and biped geometry
  2. definition of necessary conditions to have a stable walk
  3. tuning the 5 protections of the walking robot
  4. exploring all the possible gaits inside the protections

The biped robot can be seen as a very heavy beam (the upper body) linked with two others light beams (legs) with a variable length (thanks to knees). During walking, one leg is on the ground (the stance leg) and the other is free (the swing leg). Even if this model seems simple, it helps to understand all physics here.

We can say a system is in a limit cycle when its behaviour has an event which is recurrent. All the angles, angle rates, lengths… named state of the system can be taken like a photo at this event. if X is the state of the system, we can measure this state when the event occurs X[n], X[n+1]… A limit cycle is said stable if after a while, X[n+1]=X[n].
For a biped robot, the event is the state just after heel strike. Imagine a camera which make a photo at each hell strike. If the photos are the same, the gait is stable.

So the question is what happens between two photos so that X[n+1] is different from X[n] and make the system unstable ? It depends on the physics of the system. For a biped robot, I think there are 5 physical phenomenons which lead to fall:

  1. Falling forward stability : the swing leg of the robot is not fast enough to prevent falling forward
  2. Stumble stability : the swing leg touches the ground when it goes forward
  3. Falling backward stability : the upper body has not enough kinetic energy to go above the stance leg
  4. Falling sideward stability : the lateral kinetic is too high to be damped by the heel strike
  5. Twist stability : the swing leg gives an inertia moment on the stance foot. If the stance foot slides, the robot falls

The necessary conditions are the mechanical, electronic and software parameters to get the five index of stability
To be followed…


Very interesting topic, do you think you will able to make it work using simulator ?
While you have not access to a Poppy, we could iterate between your work on simulator and the real platform in our lab.

Yes indeed, the simulation is still a work in progress but you can start to use it (don’t hesitate if you have any question, there are still several problems).

So for the walk, you are developing a limit cycle approach? Can you explain your control method?
Basically you are looking for the stability indicator on the Poincaré map.  
From a more formal point a view, a common method is to linearize this Poincaré map and look at the modulus of the eigenvalues. If they are <1 the system is stable.

Shouldn’t this topic appear in the Science category ?

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@Matthieu : Before the simulator, I think the most difficult and the first think to do is to have the “perfect” foot to guarantee most of stability issues. I think contact between foot and ground should require a finite element simulator or “good idea simulator”. I think the fun is in the second :wink: since the cost is not so expensive. For simulation, I think the simple compass simulator is a good start to have the first ideas. That is why I made my own robot to go further.

@Steve About the control method I imagine, it is a mix between deterministic algorithm and machine learning, dynamic programming. I was influenced by dynamic walking but also by flight control.
I have already used the linearization of the Poincaré map, this index is very useful to benchmark simple controls of the stride. From my point of view, a robust gait is a combination of several control loops.

Just for information, I edited the first post with a figure so that it is more… sexy.
Let’s go on with the main part of the method : a way to understand longitudinal biped walking.
Let’s make some simplifications:

  • upper body is only a point
  • mass of foot is very small with respect to upper body (agility condition)
  • Do not take into account lateral issues (for the moment)
  • The leg length can be variable but L1d is much lower than V=thetad*L1

Therefore, the swing leg can be neglected and the model is simplified:

The model becomes a “simple” inverted pendulum. To make a step you must be sure the mass passes above the foot. That is to say the upper body has enough kinetic energy to be transformed in potential energy.
Kinetic energy is


Potential energy is

The condition to pass above the foot is then the BIG EQUATION:


A very good way to visualize such a dynamic system is to see the phase plane thetad=f(theta). If you want to know how to use phase plane, see the MIT course about underactuated robotics (by Russ Tedrake).

You can see this red limit is very important to take decisions before falling. The first decision to control the swing leg so that the robot does not fall. The fisrt approach is to say:

  • below the red limit, the swing leg shall stay backward (not enough energy to make another step)
  • above the red limit, the swing leg can go forward because the upper body will reach the pass

A first stability margin can be defined as the distance between robot state and the red limit.

Notice a number is important : sqrt(g/L) named the Froude number. If thetad reaches this value, the vertical acceleration of the upper body is +1g that is to say it compensates gravity… The robot flies (runs).
sqrt(2)*Froude number is the Thetad required to reach the pass is the robot is horizontal. (to make a back flip…)

This is a very analytic way to see dynamic walking but for control we can see the first necessary conditions:

  • upper body has to be largely heavier than the legs
  • swing leg tight actuator has to be as fast as possible
  • theta and thetad must be measured (which sensor? at which place?)
  • heelstrike must be detected to know which is the swing leg, which is the stance leg (which sensor?)
  • Control must be reactive control = f(theta,thetad) like a map (learning algorithm?)
  • stance foot shall be compliant

Now the stability is OK, I will talk about all the ways to give mechanical energy to the robot.

Do not hesitate to criticize me.


Another way the fall forward is that the swing leg hurts the ground during the stride. To avoid this, take care that L2 is lower than L1 when alpha is next to zero. (anti-stumble protection)

Applying the algorithm above will result in a robot which stops. It stops with the two feets on ground (with a final alpha value which is not always zero). If the robot is launched with an initial mechanical energy, this energy will be dissipated little by little. How? by friction in the actuator, aerodynamic force but mainly by impact. When the robot hurts the ground the kinetic energy of the foot gets instantaneously to zero (fortunately to avoid foot bounce). This heel strike is mainly the issue of the passive robots. Not predictable, produces sound, excites the flexible modes of the robot structure, fatigues the materials…
But this energy loss is largely below the actuator Joule effect (to be quantified…).
To compensate this energy loss there are several ways:

  • The swing leg can be thrown forward by the robot to cross the red limit.
  • The swing leg can push the gravity center when it is still on ground using the lever arm of the foot (named the “push-off”)
  • The stance leg length can be reduced to change the red limit slope
  • The foot of stance leg can produce a torque on the stance leg to control precisely theta when thetad is small or absorb kinetic energy

All these actions can be f(theta,thetad).

Here are the rules. The challenge is to find all this f(theta,thetad) to get the natural walking and to explore all the different gaits available (knocked gait, slippy gait, autoritary gait, backward gait, moonwalk gait, happy gait, sad gait, natural influence on arms…)

But before this, I will talk about the lateral issues which have unfortunately an influence on longitudinal design.

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Hello! Did you have implemented something? Do you think Poppy is always a good choice to succeed in this idea?

Yes I tried to implement but there are some limits. First of all, the main component is to have the orientation of the robot with respect to the gravity. To have this, the idea is to include a IMU. I tried to put an IMU (the RAZOR) on the pelvis of the robot and this sensor is very good but…
The second issue is the mechanical game. even if you have the pelvic orientation, due to the game, the relative position of the pelvis with respect to foot contact is not precise (there is a 10cm incertainty…)
The solution should be to cancel the mechanical game using a better mechanical structure (more expensive) but I am convinced we can do without this.
The solution is to add an IMU for each part of the robot. Doing this, you can compensate the game and improve the precision and above all know the relative position of the center of mass with respect to the ankle. (it is possible to make data fusion with position sensors of the servomotors)

The last thing I am looking for is time and money to test this solution :wink:

What do you think about this ? do you agree ? did you try or imagine other things ?

Well I have almost no idea how to go about achieving this. I discovered the concept of inverse kinetic yesterday and Poppy seems so fragile and flexible that this tach seems (to me) complicated.

Do you think it will be possible to get a “primitive” for the Poppy Humanoid walk?

If you have a primitive to copy a move, you can do it by imitation. But for now, there is no walking primitive where Poppy walks by himself… big subject :slight_smile:

There is/was a you tube videos getting a robot to walk using standard hobby rc servos and plug n play gyros for hobby servos. If I remember correctly the walking gait was achieved using a triangular step pattern. Granted not fluid and completely humanesque but it was stable and worked as a base for +1 -1 AI algorithm inprovements. +1 = more efficient -1 =fall or less efficient. I believe 5 gyros were use one in the head 1 in each foot and 1 at each hip. I’ll check when I get home to see if I can find the videos and link. Pop star is all I can remember for the name of the robot off hand and something xrobot.com or .UK for the website

This may be of interest to the OP, as it describes a mathematically formal method of making a robot walk:

The authors claim the robot is 10 times more efficient than robots that use the ZMP method of walking.

A non-techincal overview of the robot can be found here: http://www.geek.com/news/durus-robot-walks-naturally-while-wearing-sneakers-1662621/

Thank you for the link !! very interesting. I wonder now if the question is not how to make a “low cost” robot walk :slight_smile:

I’ve been having some success with the unity game engine for programming arduino based robotics. My poppy has been shelved due to personal time constraints but I have had decent results with other biped projects. It’s a fairly simple learning environment and whit the stl files available building a virtual poppy or other robot is fairly simple. The added bonus is you can add the electronics your using and at least for the arduino it writes the code for you once your happy with the simulations. I haven’t yet played with higher functions of algorithms and ai controls but this route seems to be fairly simple. I’m sure it will work with rpi derivitives and dynamixel servos and other various electronics. I’m enjoying just the “real world” simulation aspect of the game engine and “cheating” using pre-existing algorithm and code to see what my creations will do before I even build them.

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