June 17, 2013
Robo Cat Design Based On Real Feline Anatomy
Watch the video “A Robot That Runs Like A Cat”
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe OnlineMany robotics engineers are turning to nature for inspiration, and a team from the prestigious Ãcole Polytechnique FÃ©dÃ©rale de Lausanne (EPFL) in France has developed a new robot based on detailed observations of a house cat.
The EPFL researchers say practical applications of the "cheetah-cub robot” could include search and rescue missions or space exploration on mountainous terrain.
“It´s much, much harder for a machine with wheels or with tracks to do this type of terrain,” EPFL team member Alexander Sproewitz said in an online video.
According to a report by the scientists in the International Journal of Robotics Research, the cheetah-cub is the fastest in its category of small quadruped robots under 30 kilograms, running almost seven times its body length in one second in a laboratory trial.
While not quite as nimble as an actual house cat, the cheetah-cub robot has been given the ability to auto-stabilize when running at full speed over a course that included a small set of stairs. The researchers noted that the robot animal is light, compact and assembled from cheap, common materials.
In their report, the engineers drew special attention to the robot´s leg design, which is based on detailed observations and construction of an actual feline leg. Each leg has three sections with proportions that are the same as a cat´s natural leg segments. Springs are used to replicate tendons, and small motors called actuators are used to replace the cat muscles.
“The science is very fast," Sproewitz said. “It´s also very robust. So we can have the robot running or stepping on obstacles of up to 20 percent of its leg length.”
"This morphology gives the robot the mechanical properties from which cats benefit, that's to say a marked running ability and elasticity in the right spots, to ensure stability," he added. "The robot is thus naturally more autonomous."
According to Auke Ijspeert, EPFL director of the Biorobotics Laboratory, the cheetah-cub is the logical follow-up to the research institute´s previous robot locomotion efforts, which included a salamander robot and a lamprey robot.
"It's still in the experimental stages, but the long-term goal of the cheetah-cub robot is to be able to develop fast, agile, ground-hugging machines for use in exploration, for example for search and rescue in natural disaster situations,” he said. “Studying and using the principles of the animal kingdom to develop new solutions for use in robots is the essence of our research."
The EPFL report comes just after US Army and University of Maryland researchers debuted a robotic bird earlier this month that they said has been fooling other birds.
Dubbed the “Robo-Raven,” the robotic aviator is designed to flap its wings and soar like an actual bird.
"It already attracts attention from birds in the area which tend to hide its presence," said project engineer John Gerdes.
While some birds tried to fly in a formation with the robo-bird during testing, hawks and other birds of prey took a more aggressive approach.
"Generally we don't see them coming," Gerdes said. "They will dive and attack by hitting the bird from above with their talons, then they typically fly away."