Wheels are great for traversing flat, paved surfaces, but when the terrain is covered with loose sand and large rocks, it’s time to grow feet. Scientists built a six-legged robot after studying the movements of lizards, and the breakthrough may mean a fast walking rover we send to Mars that’ll leave its predecessors in the dust.
“Having appendages like legs or limbs can be useful and beneficial” when the ground gets less even and solid, Daniel Goldman, a physicist at the Georgia Institute of Technology, told NBC News.
Researchers use physics theories and computer simulations to design airplanes that fly with the grace of birds and ships that ply waters with the ease of dolphins. Until recently, however, they knew little about the interaction of forces between scampering feet and sandy particles. How lizards could move across sand with amazing speed remained a mystery.
“That’s in large part because, for one, it is hard to see what goes on underneath the sand,” Goldman said.
He and graduate students Chen Li and Tingnan Zhang used X-rays and other observational techniques to study lizards running on sandy surfaces and came up with a theory to describe the physics of how the animals move.
The team tested the theory with first with computer simulations, then by building six-legged robots that could scamper across a sandbox, one filled with grains ranging from poppy seeds to glass beads.
The theory proved accurate within 5 percent to 10 percent over a wide range of material conditions, Goldman said. All that’s needed for it to work is one measurement of how hard it is push vertically into the sandy material.
His team found a six-legged robot with “C”-shaped feet is the optimal design for running across their sandbox. The robot is five-inches long and weighs about one-third of a pound, perhaps ideal for search-and-rescue missions or scouting out unknown environments such as the surface of Mars, they noted. …
via Meet the 6-legged robot lizards that may one day roam Mars – FutureTech on NBCNews.com.