Mother Nature may not always know best when it comes to robotics
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Researchers R.Thandiackal and P.Ramdya Photo Credit: NCCR Robotics

New research reveals that the way an insect walks may not be the best option for insect-inspired robots

Roboticists often look to nature to help inspire their designs and provide solutions to efficiency issues. However recently published findings by a Swiss research collective show that insect-inspired robots can actually move more quickly along the ground using a non-biological gait.

Insects naturally use a type of locomotion referred to as a “tripod” gait, meaning they always have three of their six legs on the ground – two on one side of the body and one on the other. In the past, robotics engineers have automatically mimicked this type of movement when designing six-legged robots, but now thanks to The National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) Robotics, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) and the University of Lausanne (UNIL), they’ll have an even better option — a “bipod” gait.

Through a multitude of computer simulations, practical robotic testing, and experimentation on the common fruit fly, researchers discovered that while the tripod gait was the most effective movement method for six-legged creatures with adhesive pads at the ends of their legs to use while scaling vertical surfaces, the bipod gait proved a faster and more efficient locomotion option for hexapadal ground walkers.

Photo Credit: NCCR Robotics

In an NCCR Robotics statement, Pavan Ramdya — co-lead and corresponding author of the study — explains, “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.”

So thanks to science, we now know that insect-inspired robots moving along the ground are at their fastest and most efficient while using a paradigm-busting bipod gait. But what kind of real-world ramifications will such a discovery lead to?

NCCR’s Dr. Linda Seward gave Geektime an example concerning the company’s rescue robots — robots sent into post-natural disaster areas too dangerous for human workers to enter — saying that by creating improved “walking robots that are robust and able to navigate quickly over uneven surfaces . . . [those] robots can reach those in need faster and concentrate rescue missions towards where they’re needed.”

Essentially, something as seemingly minor as a gait pattern matters quite a bit when time is a factor and lives are at stake.

Concerning the bigger picture, who knows how many assumptions that nature’s way is the “best” way to design robots could also be proven incorrect? We need to make sure we test and confirm (or disprove) hypotheses instead of falling into the nice, comfortable assumption trap. These findings serve as a good reminder to never stop questioning and never stop testing.

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Amanda Johnson

About Amanda Johnson


I have an MA in English Lit, experience raising an autistic kiddo, an unhealthy amount of pop culture knowledge, an uncanny ability to explain things, and a voice that cannot be ignored.

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