A lizard-inspired robot has been developed; it has the ability to always land right side up.
When falling through the air, lizards use their long tails to turn themselves so they always land on their feet. Researchers at the University of California, Berkley, have developed a robot, called RightingBot, to replicate this agile manoeuvre. Their research could help engineers design more stable robots required to operate in complex environments, such as those used in space exploration.
After watching a lot of high-speed footage of falling lizards righting themselves, the researchers discovered the vital feature, which allowed for a smooth landing every time. They found that two common lizards — the flat-tailed house gecko and green anole — both swing their tails in one direction causing their bodies to rotate to the opposite side.
The researchers then developed a 3D mathematical model of their observations, which they tested further by building a simple robot, aptly named RightingBot.
The team also compared the movement of the two lizards and found both basically had the same mid-air motion. “A comparative approach provides useful insights in the study of aerial righting responses and could be beneficial to the design of robots that navigate complex environments,” said Ardian Jusufi, lead scientist of the study presented at the Society for Experimental Biology meeting on June 29 in Salzburg, Austria.
RightingBot consists of just two parts: a body joined to a tail. Despite the simplicity of design, RightingBot succeeded in replicating the swinging tail movement of lizards, which allowed it to land the right way up after falling.
Lizards often find themselves in situations where falling is very likely, such as fighting over territory, avoiding predators and even mating. The study has shown how this simple tail mechinism is extremely useful in allowing them to avoid injuries and land safely on the ground.