Engineers at Oregon State University say they're training their walking robot, dubbed Atrias, to be the fastest bipedal robot in the world.

The designers and builders of Atrias have taken their inspiration from birds, arguably the most agile - not to mention fastest - two-legged creatures on the planet.

Created by researchers at the university's Dynamic Robotic Laboratory, Atrias has been built to gain insights into the science of walking and running.

The robot has displayed an exquisite sense of balance, easily resisting attempts by researchers to tip it over by kicking and pushing it.

It's also demonstrated a nifty knack for avoiding being hit in a game of dodge ball, the engineers say, using it carbon fiber legs equipped with fiberglass springs.

Now it's time to put in on the fast rack, the researchers say.

"When this robot gets up to speed for walking, not even running yet, it will be the fastest bipedal robot in the world," says OSU professor and robotic expert Jonathan Hurst.

Atrias is built to move using a simple "spring-mass" model, the way a pogo stick does, with a lightweight four-bar leg mechanism meant to soften each footfall instead of transmitting large jolts to the body.

Its fiberglass springs act both as a suspension and a means of mechanical energy storage, allowing Atrias to conserve energy and execute dynamic maneuvers, the designers say.

Atrias development, funded by the by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Human Frontier Science Program, began in 2009.

Despite the Pentagon being a main funder, the Oregon engineers say they envision a wide range of civilian applications for Atrias and other robots like it.

Atrias could be sent into disaster areas too dangerous for humans to enter, they say. And its technology could be used to give prosthetic limbs more natural movement.

There are actually three Atrias robots in existence; in addition to the OSU example, the University of Michigan and Carnegie Mellon University each has an Atrias in their laboratories.

The OSU Atrias will participate in the DARPA Robotics Challenge set for June 5-6 in Pomona, Calif., the team announced.

It generally gets more attention than the other two Atrias examples, because it has its own Twitter handle where it tweets about its progress on a daily basis.

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