home  >  First Step < Shadow Biped > Icarus 29 April 2024

Shadow Biped Walker by David Buckley 1988
Now in the the Permanent Collection of the Science Museum London.

The first human sized biped robot that could stand and take a step to be built outside of Japan.

  • The Science Museum's Shadow Biped page - with photos
  • The Science Museum's "Why, robot?" page archived
  • Shadow Biped Restored photos
  • Shadow Biped photos
  • Shadow Biped overview
  • Shadow's biped page (archived here)
  • NASA's Robonaught - other robots page (archived here)
  • Documentation (partial)
    Shadow Walker - Retired
    A two legged human sized pneumatic powered walking robot.
    Design and building started March 1988.
    Size - 5ft 6inches high, weight about 31Kg or 70lb
    Operational area:-
    safety supporting frame 4ft * 8ft * 8ft plus host computer, a small compressor fits under the host computer's table.
    Shadow Biped appearances
  • 1990 - the BBC TV program Tomorrow's World, live on 18th January 1990.
  • 1990 - Robotix, The Robot Olympics Glasgow 1990 - Gold Medal for Best Robot at Robotix
  • 1990 - The Garden Party, TV program 12th September 1990.
  • 1993 - photo - David Buckley, Shadow Biped, Richard Greenhill Guardian Weekend article Aug 7th 1993.
  • 1996 - Robotix96, The Robot Olympics Glasgow 1996 voted 'Best Robot' by attendees.
  • 2002 - Robodex (Japan). Invited by the organisers, voted favourite Robot by an exit poll.
  • 2013 - Permanent collection of the Science Museum London.
  • 2017 - displayed in the exhibition "Robots, the 500 year story" which opened on 8th February in the Science Museum London.

    Back in 1988 when the Shadow Group was new, Richard Greenhill, the founder and funder of the Group, was working on a shrugging shoulder which he thought was necessary for a robot or human to lift heavy weights such as suitcases. I suggested that in order to attract members we needed an appealing and challenging project such as the full sized biped robot we had often talked about. Rather than wait until everything was developed we could start with the legs and add the other parts as we went on. So the project to build the first Shadow Biped Walker was set in motion. As it turned out this probably was the first human sized biped to be built outside of Japan.

    I drew up plans for the skeleton, researched medical texts for muscle placements and designed the electronics so we could run the walker from an Acorn Archimedes computer. Richard Moyle and myself built the skeleton and the electronics were built by various other members of the group. Richard Greenhill designed and built the muscles (his development of the McKibben muscle) and we attached them to the legs. All the joints had potentiometers attached for position feedback and all the muscles had internal tension sensors. The next step was to build the pneumatic valve sets to drive the muscles.

    I was working abroad and when I came back others in the group had built the two sets of air valves and switches seen in the photograph (at left). They took up all of the body space leaving no room for any arm mechanism at all! I was very disappointed but what was built was built, maybe it was my fault for not drawing up the arms. David Tricket built a pressure sensor panel with modified pressure dial gauges so we and the computer could read the pressure in each muscle and this was attached to the back of the robot.

    Richard Walker took over writing software experimenting with all sorts of neural nets trying to get the walker to learn how to stand.

    Since the robot used McKibben muscles I hoped it would be quite flexible but Richard Greenhill kept pressing for more force from the muscles and in the end it was very highly strung and could nearly stand up without any compressed air in the muscles at all.

    During this time I was spending time working abroad so had little control of what went on with the robot and one time when I returned The group had decided that since some of the potentiometer fixings had come loose instead of securing them they would take off all of them and replace them with analog optical sensors.

    After a lot of work especially by Richard Greenhill, in getting the sensors to work, Richard Walker discovered they were not monotonic and so more time and effort was expended on them.

    The original valves were 110vac (used because Richard Greenhill bought them cheaply from Proops at I think 1 each) but Richard Walker thought they didn't have enough through flow to fill the muscles fast enough for his control software to work. So we changed them all for 12v washing machine valves with enormous flow capacity. In doing so we discovered that the reason the old valves couldn't supply the necessary air was that most of the connections in the pressure sensor panel virtually sealed off the supply and simply making them good would have been sufficient. The new valves required large fittings and only cast-iron ones were available, this set another problem because the group member who modified them didn't clean them thoroughly and they all went rusty and particles stopped the vales from working. An all night session stripping and cleaning everything was required so we could show the robot, probably at the Robot Olympics 1996. Along with the new valves the pressure gauges were rebuilt into two sets, one on the front and the other on the back of the robot as can be seen in the Robodex photo (at top right).

    The new valves brought their own problems, they had rubber diaphragms and pressure bleed holes and didn't respond well to being pulsed, but Richard Walker eventually managed to tame them and the biped became operational again.

    Some time in the mid 1990s just after Honda had announced their P2 biped the Head of the Japanese Government's Humanoid Robot Project made a special visit to London to talk to us at Shadow and to see the Shadow biped. Interestingly I remember one of us asked him what part Honda had in their Humanoid Robot Project while developing the P2. He sighed and said "they didn't tell us", Honda had worked in secret on the P2.

    In 1998 I moved into a new house in the North of England and the walker was transferred from the Shadow labs in London with the idea that I could continue to work on it at home. However within a short time a photographer wished to use it in a modern version of Michael Angelo's Pietà and it went to London again and that was the last I saw of it until 2008. I think afterwards it was hung on the wall of the Shadow lab.

    In 2002 the organisers of Robodex 2002, at their expense, invited Shadow to take the Biped to Japan for display in the exhibition (see the heading picture on the right). An exit poll of visitors revealed it to be their favourite robot of the exhibition despite Asimo and the other Japanese robots there.

    Sadly after returning from Robodex 2002 the Biped was never put back together. In 2008 the valve blocks were in a store cupboard... and the rest?...

    Shadow Biped aquired by the Science Musem, London
    The good news is that the Shadow Biped has now been acquired by the Science Museum London for their Permanent Collection. I restored it and delivered it there on 10th December 2013 and it was the star exhibit at the Director's Christmas Drinks Party where they show off to invited guests the latest acquisitions.

    Exhibition "Robots, the 500 year story"
    The Shadow Biped was displayed in the exhibition which opened on 8th February in the Science Museum London.

    For more information see what was www.shadow.org.uk/projects/biped.shtml
    now archived here.

    Many sites have refered to the Shadow Biped, NASA's Robonaut pages used to have a survey of Humanoid Robots around the World[1] which included the Shadow Biped, that page has now gone but is archived here.

    One place for Biped links is androidworld.com - see Biped Projects.
    However a lot of links have gone - try the Wayback Machine, many pages will be archived there.

    The best way of avoiding broken links is to ask Google.

    [1] http://vesuvius.jsc.nasa.gov/er_er/html/robonaut/Other_bots.htm
    The Wayback Machine has a list of the pages with no images.
    A slideshow is still available [Dec 2013] at http://er.jsc.nasa.gov/seh/Robotics/humanoid/sld002.htm

    [top three photographs of the Shadow Biped by Richard Greenhill]

    home   -   top