Airdate: Sep 29, 2009
Scientist: Bob Full
KSC Biomimicry - Novel Robots
Robots can be so, well, robotic. But bio-inspired engineering is pointing the way to a new and nimble breed of robots.
RF: “Most of the legged robots that you see out there move really slowly, and they measure every movement very carefully.”
Watch a robot in action, and it’s no wonder the term robotic often refers to stiff or mechanical motion. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Bob Full is a professor of Integrative Biology at the University of California, in Berkeley. His research on animal movement is helping engineers design a new breed of nimble robots.
RF: “When we looked at the animals, we saw that they don’t do that at all. They go very rapidly, and they deal with the terrain in a way that is much simpler, where the control that you see is based more on their legs and their body than their brain. What we discovered is that you could make a new robot where its leg was kind of tuned to the different surfaces and the different rough terrains that it was going over, so that as you kind of hit a rock or a perturbation that got pushed one way, the springy legs kind of pushed it back the other way, so that it corrected itself. It actually self-stabilized without requiring lots of sensing and measuring from the environment. That allowed these robots to go over a wide variety of different terrains that other robots couldn’t negotiate and at speeds they couldn’t do. Since we know that a lot of the control can be built into the body and not necessarily the fancy electronics or brain, you can produce these great structures that kind of fold up like origami, and with very few motors you can produce a wonderful robot.”
We’ll hear more about robots which are inspired by nature in future programs. Bob Full is one of the participants in the Kids’ Science Challenge, our nationwide competition for third to sixth graders, made possible by the National Science Foundation. A new competition launches October first at kidsciencechallenge.com.