Humanoid robots are rapidly growing in number, especially kit robots like Pirkus and medical machines like CB2 from Japan, and with the boom come advances that bring the mechanoids closer in ability to us every day.

The latest breakthrough is a bipedal robot that can turn on the spot to change direction - typical two-legged machines require the turning circle of an oil tanker to change course.

Sideways shuffle

Video [WMV file] provided to Tech.co.uk by Tokyo-based scientist Masanao Koeda of Ritsumeikan University shows a 50cm-tall robot that can turn through 90 degrees by a process of shuffling its feet while staying in one spot. Although it sounds insignificant, it has major implications for the tasks future machines will be able to perform.

The Koeda shuffle allows a robot to keep both feet in contact with the floor at all times, which makes balancing easier and allows it to carry a load in its arms. On the other hand, robots that lift their feet and make steps to turn have to balance on alternate legs in rapid succession - a much harder task that rules out carrying anything.

The next step - as it were - for Koeda is to add the abilities to turn on slopes and on rough surfaces, which should soon allow his machine to escape the lab and do some work in the real world.