June 23, 2013
The Latest Thing In Cat Videos
The cat video out right now may not fit the standard definition of cuteness, but it’s a whole lot more remarkable than your average cat video. It features a feline robot called Cheetah-Cub. It is the size of a small house cat and moves in a very cat-like manner. It was designed by the École Polytechnique de Lausanne in Switzerland. The design reproduces several features of a real cat’s legs. Each leg has three segments, like a real cat. Springs are used for tendons, and small motors (actuators) act as muscles, converting energy into movement. These features give the robot speed and stability. It can run nearly seven times its body length in one second, making it the world’s fastest small quadruped robot. The researchers hope that this research will enable them to create machines to be used for search and rescue and other similar situations. Of course, the military is interested in uses they might be able to make of robots like this.
As a matter of fact, the military has developed its own cheetah robot. This cheetah mimics the stride patterns, limb placement and flexibility of a real adult cheetah. This robotic cheetah is fast. It has attained speeds of over 28 miles per hour (45 kph), which is well behind real cheetah speed, but it is faster than sprinter Usain Bolt.
These cheetahs are examples of biomimetics, the science of engineering robots, materials, and systems inspired by natural design, also known as biorobotics. The National Geographic Magazine has an article discussing quite a number of animal-inspired robots.
One example, a fish robot, is already proving useful by monitoring pollution in ports and detecting its source in real time (seconds instead of days). These robo-fish can share information with each other and work in teams. Another variation on the fish robot can study sea life without stirring up sediment. Almost unbelievably, a third type can be used to guide fish away from a dangerous area to a safer part of the ocean.
The military is funding a number of biomimetic robots. One of these is a robotic mule. It was created by the Marine Corp to function almost exactly the way real mules were used in the pre-automobile days. It can carry a lot of gear to take some of the burden from the soldiers when they travel off-road. This mule doesn’t need to be fed and doesn’t leave behind a mess. It is also less stubborn.
Another military sponsored robot mimics a hummingbird, designed for urban surveillance and recognizance. It can hover steadily, withstand wind gusts and maneuver easily in and out of buildings.
Harvard University has created a chameleon; it doesn’t look like a chameleon, but it does change colors to match its environment. This robot is made of silicon rubber with plastic tubing connected to a control system. It moves when air is forced through tiny channels in its soft, flexible body. When the robot senses a new color beneath it, a dye is sent through the tubing to blend in with that color. Alternately, a fluorescent dye can be used to make the chameleon easier to find, or a chemo-luminescent dye can be used to make it glow in the dark, or the temperature of the dye can be changed to make it visible in the infrared spectrum. Pretty cool, huh?
There are also a lot of creepy, crawly biorobots, but I’ll have to describe those in another post.
Image Credit: Vasil Talkachou / Shutterstock