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Can humans levitate?

You can use a simple machine to do so, but it’s not exactly fun. And that’s why it needs another tool: motion capture technology.

Humans have to wear a suit—typically a rubber harness, but there are other options—to maintain balance while levitating. The suit is attached to one of the joints in our legs and allows us to maintain a steady, vertical orientation without it lifting us off the ground.

To create an accurate motion-capture model that would work with an actual levitation device, scientists at U.C. Berkeley have spent years analyzing how humans levitate. Now, they’ve developed a machine they call a quadrupedal levitation system that uses three robotic arms, each with a separate trackable platform that provides stability for the human’s body in motion, said researcher Mark Loo, a graduate student and U.C. Berkeley professor of electrical engineering and computer science. The system doesn’t require cables, a helmet, or the use of any kind of gizmo to work, he added.

One of Loo’s teams will design its own robot, which should be ready in three years—after that comes the software needed to control it.

What’s the hardest part of designing a robot?

Designing a robot is a long process. Loo, Larkin et al. have already been developing the algorithms that will guide the design process and figuring out the exact hardware we will need.

This is where engineering gets interesting. They’re interested in developing computer models of the human body—where are legs, arms, and shoulders? Should we have arms, legs, and hands at all? Which sensors would we need on our arms and hands? How are muscles and joints connected on the arms or legs, and then what do they move? “You start with something abstract and then you do a detailed investigation of the physics of it,” Loo said.

Another challenge that comes with designing a robot is figuring out how to attach it to a moving body. Loo’s team has developed a system that has a simple, one-way attachment design called a ring-based attachment system. The ring is attached to an object using a hinge—much like how a pair of eyeglasses fits onto your head—that can be closed or opened to close and close the ring.

In this particular model the ring can be closed by either opening a hinge in the object it is attached to, or by inserting part of the