In what is almost certainly a world first, researchers Chung Changhyun and Motomu Nakashima at the Tokyo Institute of Technology have developed a robot that can faithfully reproduce a swimmer’s whole-body motion while measuring water resistance. Called the SWUMANOID (Swimming Humanoid), its results are expected to be presented at the Aero Aqua-Biomechanisms Symposium (ISABMEC 2012) in Taiwan this August.
Although swimming is a popular sport, there’s still much to be discovered. Normally researchers analyze video footage of a real swimmer, but the problem is repeatability. The SWUMANOID can perform exactly how the researchers want it to, allowing them to repeat tests or make slight adjustments to better understand water resistance and propulsion. Furthermore, the robot can wear a swimsuit to determine its impact – facilitating the development of performance-enhancing swimwear.
To create the robot, the researchers first performed a 3D body scan of a real person. A 1/2 scale model was built using 3D printed parts. The robot was then outfitted with 20 water-proof motors, and programmed the necessary motions to reproduce realistic crawl, breaststroke, backstroke, butterfly, and even dog paddling and treading water.
Due to its smaller size, the robot is slower than a real person. It takes two minutes thirty-six seconds to swim a hundred meters. In the future, the team would like to build a life-sized robot that will have even more degrees of freedom to better model real swimming.