Soon, robots that run like cheetahs, stick like geckos, mimic roaches

October 18th, 2009 - 1:30 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Oct 18 (ANI): A robotic scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is now building robots that can run as fast as the cheetah, stick to any surface like a gecko and can mimic roaches that scurry at nearly 50 times their body length in one second.

Robotic designer Sangbae Kim, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is trying to understand how he can take some of the mechanisms animals use and replicate them in robots.

“Animals have to find food, shelter; move towards water or away from a predator. Moving is one of their biggest functions, and they do it very well. That’s why ideas from nature are very important for a robotic designer like me,” Wired News quoted him as saying.

Among the robots the researchers have designed are the Stickybot, a robot that has foot pads based on a gecko’s feet, and iSprawl, a robot whose motion is inspired from cockroaches.

And Kim’s latest project is a robot inspired by the cheetah.

The researchers are planning to build a prototype robot from a lightweight carbon-fiber-foam composite that can run at the cheetah’s speed of 35 miles per hour.

Earlier they have designed Stickybot- a mechanical lizard-like robot that takes its inspiration from the gecko.

The pads of a gecko’s feet are covered with tiny hairs called setae and spatulae that can be up to one-thousandth the width of a human hair. The hairs cling to surfaces using molecular interactions known as the Van der Waals force. The force helps support the gecko’s weight as it scrambles up vertical surfaces.

Kim has tried to recreate that idea for the Stickybot. The Stickybot’s feet is covered with hairs made of rubber silicone.

However, the rubber is thicker than those on a gecko’s paw, which limits the robot’s abilities. It can only climb extremely smooth surfaces such as glass, acrylic or a whiteboard.

Kim says his team is working on refining the Stickybot so that it can adapt to climbing on walls with uneven textures.

Kim and his colleagues have created Spinybot, a hexapod robot that would use small spines or micro claws, as they called it, to produce adhesion on a surface.

The approach is inspired by the mechanisms observed in spiders, says Kim.

Unlike the claws of a cat, small spines do not need to penetrate surfaces. Instead, they exploit small bumps or pits in a surface to move forward.

By studying the movement of roaches, the Kim and his colleagues developed hand-sized hexapedal robots or a new family of ’sprawl’ robots.

The robots are designed to test ideas about locomotion dynamics, leg design and leg arrangement.

iSprawl has a battery and electric motor, and a power transmission system that converts rotary motion to leg thrust. It also has a push-pull cable transmission system.

The iSprawl, which was the first of the bio-robots designed by Kim, can cover 7.5 feet per second. (ANI)

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