A new type of robot has just been developed to work like a cheetah. Inspired by the world’s fastest land animal, researchers from North Carolina State University have created “soft robots” that can move faster on solid surfaces than any previous model.
The new light robotics can also grab delicate objects and strong enough to lift heavy objects. The robots are inspired by the biomechanics of cheetahs, especially how their spines flex and extend as they run.
“Cheetahs are the fastest creatures on earth and derive their speed and power from bending their thorns,” says Jie Yin, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at North Carolina State University.
“We were inspired by the cheetah to create a type of soft robot with a” bistable “spring plug, which means that the robot has two stable states,” says Yin. “The transition between the two states releases a significant amount of energy, allowing the robot to quickly exert force against the ground.” This allows the robot to gallop on a surface, which means that its feet leave the ground, he explains.
“Soft robots” are mechanical robots that function as living organisms. Instead of being made of rigid materials, they are built to have greater flexibility and adaptability to perform tasks. In the past, “soft robots were crawlers, always staying in contact with the ground,” which limited their speed, says Professor Yin.
The new cheetah-inspired robots rightly fall into a class called LEAP (taking advantage of elastic instabilities for amplified performance). The robots beat the previous record reaching speeds of up to 2.7 body lengths per second, more than three times faster than previous models. They can also run on steep slopes. When the researchers attached a fin instead of their feet, the LEAP design also became the fastest swimming robot.
What will cheetah-inspired robots be used for?
According to Professor Yin, potential applications could include search and rescue technologies, where speed is essential, and industrial production robotics. “For example, imagine faster production line robots, but still capable of handling fragile objects,” he says.
“We are open to collaborating with the private sector to develop ways in which they can incorporate this technology into their operations,” he concludes.
An example of how a soft robot can be used for emergency rescue is an artificial octopus developed at the Bristol Robotics Lab in the United Kingdom. Look for victims under collapsed buildings following an earthquake. “The robot can deform to squeeze into small empty spaces and” worms “in the structure. When it finds a wounded trapped in the debris, it can exert localized forces to create an air pocket,” says the research manager, Professor Jonathan Rossiter .
Cheetahs are vulnerable to extinction
Cheetahs are perhaps the best known for being the fastest land animals. An adult cheetah can accelerate to the rhythm of a sports car and run up to 75 miles per hour. But big cats are also very vulnerable to extinction, says Dr. Mark Jones, responsible for conservation charity policy Born free.
“Individuals span vast areas; habitat loss and falling prey levels are leading them to growing conflict with people. In addition, cheetah cubs are trafficked out of Africa to fuel a growing illegal demand for “trophy” exotic pets, mainly in the Middle East.
As a result, fewer than 7,000 mature adults are believed to exist in their African and Asian range and populations are becoming increasingly isolated and fragmented, continues Dr. Jones.
Like all big cats, cheetahs are the best predators and are extremely important for the stability of the habitats and ecosystems in which they live. They need large areas to hunt and don’t go well in captivity.
“It is really important to preserve cheetahs and other large cats by protecting their habitats, mitigating conflicts with people and ending the demand and trade in live animals or parts and products derived from them. By implementing measures to protect cheetahs, they will draw many other species that depend on the same habitats also benefit “, concludes dr. Jones.