Robotic cat could be future of search-and-rescue missions (+video)

Researchers have invented a fast, cat-like robot that could be a prototype for fleet-footed search-and-rescue robots.

By , Contributor

Thanks to the design of its legs, which faithfully mimic feline morphology, EPFL's four-legged 'cheetah-cub robot' shares the advantages of its biological model: it is small, light and runs very fast. In the long term, this type of machine, which is still in an experimental stage, could be used in search-and-rescue missions or for exploration.

This cat will always land on it's feet – or so researchers hope. 

Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (Biorob) have invented a robot that moves like a housecat and that could be a prototype for nimble search-and-rescue robots.

The new robot, called the “cheetah-cub robot,” has been modeled on the feline leg, with three segments on each of the four legs, in the same proportions as they are on a real housecat. Springs are have been used in the robot in place of a cat’s tendons and small motors have replaced the animal’s muscles. It doesn’t have a head, however, so, as it toddles around on a leash, it has the look of a mutant spider, but challenged in the leg department.

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“This morphology gives the robot the mechanical properties from which cats benefit, that’s to say a marked running ability and elasticity in the right spots, to ensure stability,” said Alexander Sprowitz, a Biorob scientist, in a press release. “The robot is thus naturally more autonomous.”

Clocking in at speeds of up to 3.1 miles per hour, the cat can travel seven times the length of its body each second. That makes the robot much slower than the common housecat, which can move about 29 body lengths per second, but still the fastest of all robots its size.

The new robot is not only fast – it’s also light and stable, and researchers hope that later versions will go on to be used in exploration and search-and-rescue missions.

“It’s still in the experimental stages, but the long-term goal of the cheetah-cub robot is to be able to develop fast, agile, ground-hugging machines for use in exploration, for example for search and rescue in natural disaster situations,” said Biorob director Auke Ijspeert, in a press release. “Studying and using the principles of the animal kingdom to develop new solutions for use in robots is the essence of our research.”

This is not the first time that animals have served as inspiration for agile robots. Earlier this month, researchers at Carnegie Mellon developed a snake-like robot that might also eventually be used in search-and-rescue missions. Cats, too, are a popular basis for robotic invention.  Last month, MIT scientists debuted a cheetah-like robot that can reach speeds of 13.7 miles per hour – when stabilized with parallel support bars and running on a treadmill. Good news, for those of us needing rescuing from our treadmills.

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