Lizard motion influencing design of search and rescue robots
Robert Full, a professor at University of California at Berkeley, believes that by studying the motion of animals, we can better design robots for search and rescue missions. SmartPlanet visits his lab to look at its robot, Tailbot, and the Agama lizard that inspired it.
Nature is usually the best designer
Sumi Das: Say hello to Tailbot assumed spelling. This four wheeled robot with its three inch tail, was inspired by a real life lizard. Robert Full, a Professor at U.C. Berkeley, believes by studying the motion of animals, we can better design robots for search and rescue missions. Robert Full: So if we want them to be involved in assisting where there's explosions or earthquakes, they have to be more agile in terms of their overall movement. Sumi Das: His team looked at the movement of this redheaded agama lizard. Robert Full: These guys have a fairly long tail so if I, if I measure the body from here to here and compare that to the tail, you can see that this lizard has a tail about one and a half times body length. Sumi Das: They found the lizard's tail is what gives the creature its stability when it leaps into the air and then lands on its feet. Tom Libby is a researcher with the group. Tom Libby: If they're running along and they slip and they had no tail, they would rotate by some amount in the air before they landed. So the more effective your tail is, the more you can redirect that rotation into your tail and prevent your body from rotating. Sumi Das: The researchers use their findings to create Tailbot, Evan Chang-Siu helped design the robot. See what happens when he drops the robot and the tail isn't turned on. Speaker 1: What you'll see is it just drops on its face, the nose first, no correction but what I'm going to do is I'm going turn on the controller and it's going to want to level out. And so you can see instead of falling nose first, it actually landed on all four wheels, pretty much just like the, the movement of a lizard, where it can whip its tail up and actually affect its body angle. And you can see that it didn't take very long for it to do that. Sumi Das: To confirm their findings, the researchers built a platform for both the lizard and robot to launch from and then compared the two. Robert Full: So we took this robot and we had it sort of jump off a ramp, like the animal, to see what would happen and we didn't do anything with the tail. The robot just nosedived down, like we predicted. But if the body could actually sense its attitude in the robot and move its tail the way the lizard did, we could test to see if it could correct its attitude and it worked perfect. In fact, it was a little bit better than the lizard. Sumi Das: Full says the tail gives the robot better balance if it needs to jump and then land during a search and rescue operation. Tailbot is just one of many new robots being developed by researchers around the world that are being influenced by animals. Take for example, this cheetah, funded by DARPA and under development at Boston Dynamics. Notice how the robot's legs move at super high speeds. And check out these small flying robots that look like insects, they were developed at the University of Pennsylvania. One can only imagine how these creature-like robots could be used in the future. Robert Full: I think what this shows is that even the strangest creature that we think has nothing to offer really holds fundamental secrets of how things work and those can be translated to incredible discoveries. Sumi Das: For Smart Planet, I'm Sumi Das.