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(Left) Cheetah-bot on its own showing a cute, familiar, cat-like stance. (Right) Shown for size comparison (via EPFL)


EPFL, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, has been busy of late designing several impressive biomechanical robots that intend to increase human understanding of the natural world. A previous post covered a salamander robot that mimicked the locomotive control system of a salamander using electronic controls to replace the signals normally sent up and down the animal’s spine. This time ‘round, the school’s BioRobotics laboratory enlists the help of a feline in its latest biomechanics work.


The International Journal of Robotics Research recently published a study detailing the lab’s study of a “cheetah-cub robot.” This fast and stable mechanical creature brilliantly mimics the natural movements of a housecat with much interest going into its leg design.


The reason the lab chose a cat for their design was simple - they didn’t have enough lab space to build a whole cheetah. In hopes of keeping their research focused on the biomechanical study of the undisturbed natural world, dogs were eliminated from the equation due to the high influence of human breeding in their evolution.


EPFL’s CatBot is approximately 8 inches long and 6 inches tall and is made of readily available, off the shelf components. At this stage of the research, operation is still performed via wire - though in the future, remote operation will allow for a wide range of outdoor applications. Its legs in particular mimic the movements and morphology of a housecat quite well - tendons are accounted for by spring-loaded pantograph leg design, and actuators on each leg are used in place of muscles.


As the fastest small quadruped robot of its kind, the 30kg cheetah-cub bot scurries along at a speed of 1.4 m/s that is equivalent to about seven body lengths per second. Even at its higher speeds, the leg design’s auto stabilization features allows the robot to traverse up and down obstacles up to 20% of its leg length.


Future applications will include rough terrain search and rescue operations that are generally troublesome for track and/or wheel driven robots. Studies have already shown the feline bot’s ability to manage tough terrains, and its spring loaded leg design hopes to one day enable quick and agile exploratory missions in unfriendly environments including natural disaster sites.


All in all, EPFL’s recent work on the cheetah-cub bot hopes to continue the trend of bio mimicry and biomechanically based technology use. As Auke Ijspeert, director of the institute’s BioRob Lab explains, the long-term goal is in “studying and using the principles of the animal kingdom to develop new solutions for use in robots...” In other words - when in doubt, look to nature for the answer.


Wrap this bot in fake fur, everyone will love it.




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