Can This Robot Outswim Michael Phelps?

Posted by - Friday, August 3rd, 2012

With the Olympics as a focal point for the world, plenty of people have been more motivated to emulate the actions of their favorite Olympians or begin practicing their favorite sport.

But it's not just amateur athletes that are inspired by these age-old games. Technology researchers are tailoring their efforts to the hype.

Just in time for the height of the enthusiasm surrounding the games, a team of Japanese researchers have developed a robot to figure out the best swimming technique.

Swumanoid is a swimming humanoid. Led by Motomu Nakashima, researchers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology designed the robot to be 3 feet tall and 12 pounds, a small, to-scale replica of a Japanese Olympic swimmer. It can swim backstroke and butterfly, but its specialty is freestyle.

And it is designed for research to determine how to swim most efficiently.

Researchers have conducted similar testing before, using humans instead of robots. Their goal is to determine what is the best way to move in a stroke, push your arms through the water, and use your legs in order to swim fastest and reduce drag.

But of course, swimmers can't help test this forever. And switching off swimmers after one gets tired changes the variables of size, weight, and body shape.

Swumanoid can swim for an unlimited amount of time. He won't get tired and lose form, and his arm and leg motions will always be exactly the same. As the researchers put it, he can help “address the problems inherent in human swimming.”

But Swumanoid is also special in comparison to other robots. For one, he and all his motors are waterproof. And he also has the exact range of motion a human swimmer has, something no other robot can boast.

He isn't quite as quick as those Olympians—at least not yet. Right now he swims at a pace three times slower than the freestyle world record. But Nakashima thinks they can certainly improve this soon.

The robot still swims a mechanically, with pauses in motion and hitches particular to a robot, as you can see in the video below.

But as the scientists say, once improvements are made he could be pretty beneficial in figuring out just how the average swimmer should improve his stroke to emulate the likes of Michael Phelps or Ryan Lochte.


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