This purple little guy is the Gibbot: a robot designed by the
Laboratory for Intelligent Mechanical Systems at Northwestern
University to explore a particular type of locomotion that's been
perfected by monkeys to quickly and efficiently get around in trees.
You might remember ParkourBot — a two-dimensional gymnast
robot also from Northwestern (in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon).
ParkourBot is a pro at bouncing up and down walls, but it's not great at going sideways. The Gibbot, on the other hand, is
designed primarily to investigate horizontal locomotion. Specifically, the Gibbot is intended to brachiate which is a type of
highly efficient motion used by (big surprise here!) gibbons (which are small apes). Brachiation is essentially repetitive
horizontal swinging; there's no net vertical motion which means that the gibbon doesn't really have to expend much in the way
of energy fighting gravity. Once it gets going, the gibbon can move very fast by just grabbing on and letting go at the right times.
Figuring out what these times are (and what gaits they result in) is the tricky part, but the researchers were able to show off
some successes. The Gibbot itself consists of two arms with electromagnets at the ends and one powered joint in the middle.
It swings around on a steel wall which provides an unlimited number of clamping points for the magnets. This allows for the
testing and comparison of a variety of different brachiating gaits, with a fairly ambitious goal in mind, according to their paper:
"By employing a diverse suite of gaits, the Gibbot will be able to perform gymnastic maneuvers to reach specific handholds in
DASH TO THE FINISH
DASH — UC Berkeley's 10 centimeter long, 16 gram Dynamic
Autonomous Sprawled Hexapod — has learned a new trick. The robot
can now perform "rapid inversion" maneuvers, dashing up to a ledge and
then swinging itself around to end up underneath the ledge and upside-down. This replicates behaviors in cockroaches and geckos, and may lead
to a new generation of acrobatically-inclined insectobots.
Cockroaches have a notorious ability to vanish from sight before
your brain even decides you should take a swat at it, and if you've ever
tried to chase down a gecko, you know that they're not just fast, but
they're also incredibly agile. These abilities stem in great part from the
fact that cockroaches and geckos are small and light, and consequently
don't have to overcome much inertia when changing direction. We've
only recently been able to take advantage of technologies that allow for
the creation of robots at similar scales, and such robots (like DASH)
exhibit impressive speed and agility.
Recently, researchers at UC Berkeley's PolyPEDAL Lab (led by
Professor Robert Full) demonstrated that cockroaches can perform
"rapid inversions" on a ledge — a previously unknown behavior.
Surprisingly, while on a vacation research trip at the Wildlife Reserves
near Singapore, the researchers discovered a similar behavior in lizards,
and documented geckos using this technique in the jungle to escape
predators and nosy scientists. Full's group then teamed up with
roboticists from Berkeley's Biomimetic Millisystems Lab to see if DASH
could be taught to do the same sort of thing.
DASH — unlike cockroaches or geckos — doesn't come with
claws, so the researchers "simulated claw action" by sticking some
Velcro™ onto DASH's front and hind legs, and then adding more Velcro to the top and underside of the
ledge to form pivot and catch points. Since the whole Velcro thing is kind of cheating if you're trying to
design a robot inspired by animals (as opposed to plants), the Berkeley researchers have started to develop designs for both
active and passive bio-inspired claws. With the ability to naturally stick to surfaces and perform these new acrobatic tricks, the
UC Berkeley teams say DASH could soon be able to make speedy transitions between running and climbing, eventually leading
to "highly mobile sentinel and search-and-rescue robots that assist us during natural and human-made disasters."
Note that no cockroaches or geckos were harmed over the course of this research.
Photo: Jean-Michel Mongeau, Ardian Jusufi, and Pauline
Jennings (UC Berkeley PolyPEDAL Lab)
Image: PLoS One
24 SERVO 08.2012