This story is from the category World Specific Developments
Date posted: 08/08/2010
Children do it with ease, but walking on two feet is challenging for robots. And while animated characters stroll along quite happily, they rarely look human when they do.
That's because the many joints of a human body can move in multiple directions, creating a bewildering array of potential poses. Marshalling them to make a humanoid walk is no simple matter. "It's like driving a car with 50 steering wheels," says Michiel van de Panne, a computer animation researcher at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, who is one of many trying a new approach to giving robots and video game characters more realistic gaits.
Simulating physical processes helps to make virtual worlds look realistic. For instance, a technique called ray tracing mimics the way light reflects off objects. But animating characters is generally a more superficial process. Although motion-capture technology can record real-life movements for virtual characters to mimic, it is impossible to give a character every variation of movement it will need. A better approach would be to use the simulated physics approach to enable virtual characters to "just generate motion on the fly", says Martin de Lasa of the University of Toronto, Canada.
Animators first considered this approach back in the 1990s, but slow computers and a limited understanding of biomechanics deterred them. These limitations no longer apply, says de Lasa. For instance, UK firm NaturalMotion has developed virtual charactersMovie Camera that react to whatever they encounter in a realistic way through an approach called "simulated evolution".
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