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The concept amphibious "Salamandra Robotica" walks alongside Lake Geneva right after taking a swim (via EPFL & Kostas Karakasiliotis)

 

Robotics and animatronics have been keen on helping scientists understand the inner-workings of biological systems. Previous work by a group of Swiss and French researchers back in 2007 resulted in the development of a salamander-mimicking robot designed to walk, crawl, and even swim according to remotely signaled electrical impulses sent down the robot’s spine. Now, the same group of researchers has upgraded their salamander bot to be twice as fast and twice as powerful and will be presenting their work at the Innorobo 2013 robotics exhibition between March 19th and March 21st in Lyon, France.

 

The original creation, known as the Salamandra robotica, was designed in an effort to simulate the intricate neural activity that takes place in an amphibian’s spinal cord. Inspired by a biological study that demonstrated how a salamander’s locomotion is dependent on the intensity of an electrical impulse down its spine, the researchers built a similar system. The model mimics natural spinal “circuits” capable of stimulating rhythmic and coordinated neural functions. Otherwise known as central pattern generators (CPG), the design accomplishes this by utilizing a series of coupled nonlinear oscillators and an on-board microcontroller. A laptop, acting as the brain of the animal, is then used to wirelessly transmit signals to the spine that modulate the bots locomotion. In this way, the researchers were able to demonstrate that their model of an artificial spine and CPG networks to control robotic locomotion is validated.

 

Salamandra robotica II operates in much the same way as its predecessor, with the addition of a few upgrades. Its upgraded hardware gives the amphibious robot the ability to swim twice as fast as before and fold its arms on command. More powerful microcontrollers are used to create a distributed computational system that also allow the researchers to simulate a salamander’s muscular properties.

 

The researchers from the Biorobotics Lab at the Swiss Institute of Technology in Lausanne are soon to appear in an upcoming article in the IEEE Transactions in Robotics. Their valued work effectively shows the complex neural modeling of vertebrate motion. Eventually, the lab workers hope their model can be used in the design of future locomotion control for robots.

 

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