Six-legged Robot Runs Faster Than An Insect

Posted: Feb 19 2017, 11:34am CST | by , Updated: Feb 19 2017, 10:02pm CST, in News | Latest Science News

 
Six-legged Robot Runs Faster than an Insect
Credit: EPFL/Alain Herzog

Nature is inspiring the design of next generation robots and drones. These bio-inspired robots can replicate the mechanism and performace of real creatures and even outperform them. That's what exactly a team of researchers from EPFL and University of Lausanne in Switzerland have done with a robot. They have designed a six-legged robot that looks like a creepy-crawly spider but runs faster than it. That’s because researchers have now discovered a simple way to make robots move fast.

Horses and other vertebrates achieve their top speeds when they make minimal contact with the ground. Speeding insects, on the other hand, place their three legs on the ground, two on one side of their body and one on the other. This is also called tripod gait.

Using computer simulations, researchers tested different combinations to see what physical characteristics would be necessary to make an insect run faster. They also done experiments on real insects such as common fruit fly - the most commonly studied insect in biology.

Both experiments and computer modeling show that insects would be speediest with a bipod or two-legged gait, particularly if they get rid of adhesion or stickiness on the tips of their legs that are used for climbing.

"We wanted to determine why insects use a tripod gait and identify whether it is, indeed, the fastest way for six-legged animals and robots to walk.” said co-researcher Pavan Ramdya.

“Our findings support the idea that insects use a tripod gait to most effectively walk on surfaces in three dimensions, and because their legs have adhesive properties. This confirms a long-standing biological hypothesis. Ground robots should therefore break free from only using the tripod gait.”

The three-legged gait has long inspired engineers but it is necessarily not the fastest and most efficient way for bio-inspired robots to move on the ground. As robot don't have the adhesive pads used by insects to climb walls and ceilings, the designers of insect-inspired robots could leave this three-legged or tripod gait and instead consider other possibilities. However, the typical tripod gait was still the best way for fruit flies and cockroaches to move across uneven surfaces or climbing.

“There is a natural dialogue between robotics and biology: Many robot designers are inspired by nature and biologists can use robots to better understand the behavior of animal species,” said Robin Thandiackal, a co-lead author of the study.

“We believe that our work represents an important contribution to the study of animal and robotic locomotion."

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