Robots, Transformers, and Lizards

For some years, robot specialists have been looking to animals to get ideas for robots.

It makes sense. Not only do animals cover an impressive array of solutions for mobility and manipulative, but all of their solutions have been proven to work. They may work better in an ocean or a veldt than in a wash-down food processing environment, but they do work.

Some of the creatures which have inspired innovation in robotics:

Now lizards have joined the pack. The specific lizard capability the researchers have in mind is the ability to use a tail to switch from four-legged running to two-legged running without slowing down.

Why would you want a robot to do that?

The researchers, Australian academics Christofer Clemente and Nicholas Wu, want to use wheeled robots. At the same time, they want to have the additional maneuverability required to get over obstacles and move into tight spaces. That is not something wheeled robots are known for.

If a robot could transform from a four-wheeled vehicle to a two-wheeled one, however, it could move into close spaces when necessary, and take advantage of four-wheel stability when it had the room to do so.

The researcher are thinking about rescue operations and space exploration, but space and obstacles are issues in industrial robotics as well. The transformer robots would also have advantages when it came to uneven terrain, something that currently causes lots of problems in robot navigation. Manufacturing and warehousing could someday benefit from the lizard special sauce.

The mechanism

It had long been thought that lizards switched to two legs when running essentially by accident. They were going so fast, biologists figured, that they ended up on two legs just as a car might be on two wheels if it took a stunt-driver’s turn.

In fact, lizards use their tails and movements of their forelegs to shift to a bipedal motion. Then they use their tails for balance and navigation.

A robot, given a tail and the right programming, could do the same. Or so Clemente and Wu hope.


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