KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (CBS/WVLT) -- His name is Charlie, and he's the latest thing in lifelike robotics: a machine that moves like an ape and can stand on two legs like a human.
Charlie is being developed by scientists at the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI), in Bremen. They call this project a testing ground for new technologies and improved robotic design.
"Currently the robot can walk on four legs and it can get up to get into a two-legged position," said Daniel Kuehn, project leader at DFKI. "Our next step will now be to teach the robot to walk on two legs."
Its locomotion is possible because of two specially developed features: a flexible spine and sensor-equipped feet.
"With the spine it can move in six directions the way we humans are able to do it," Kuehn said. "The foot contains a total of sixty sensors in order to adapt and measure different ground structures. They are also there to find out how much pressure we can apply."
Charlie's mechanical movements are controlled by independent motors and multiple actuators built into the system. A circuit board in Charlie's ankles processes the data produced by the foot sensors, telling the robot where to shift its weight as it stands or walks.
Years of additional work lie ahead, but Charlie's developers hope someday a robot like this could be put to work exploring other planets. Closer to home, experts say, a robot that could walk upright and maneuver around obstacles in its path could assist the elderly or disabled as a home health assistant.