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Cheetah, Gecko and Spiders Inspire Robotic Designs

By Wired News

October 21, 2009

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Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Sangbae Kim is trying to replicate the mechanisms used by animals in robotics. Kim says the animal kingdom provides the best ideas for creating mobile robots. "Moving is one of their biggest functions, and they do it very well," he says. "That's why ideas from nature are very important for a robotic designer like me." Kim has designed several robots by adapting biological models. For example, Stickybot is a robot with foot pads based on a gecko's feet, and iSprawl is a robot that replicates the motion of cockroaches.

Kim is now working to develop a robot based on a cheetah, with the goal of building a prototype robot from a lightweight carbon-fiber-foam composite capable of running 70 mph. The first step will be creating a computer model to calculate optimal limb length, weight, gait, and torque in hip and knee joints. Kim says the biggest challenge will be getting enough power from a motor to achieve the desired speed quickly.

Kim and his researchers also are working on improving Stickybot, which has feet covered with tiny hairs made of rubber silicon. The silicon hairs are much thicker than a gecko's hairs, and Stickybot can only climb extremely smooth surfaces. The researchers are working to adapt the robot to climb on walls with uneven textures.

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