CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—Robots are taking over Chicago. Experts showed off three animal-inspired robots today at the annual meeting of AAAS, which publishes Science. The robots are designed to gallop, navigate, and swim like their real-world cheetah, ant, and fish counterparts. The mechanical trio's novel movement could help future robots trek across the rocky terrain of other planets and plunge into the dark depths of the ocean.
Robotic Cheetah Trots and Gallops
The robotic cheetah made headlines last summer when it reached speeds of 22 kilometers per hour while carrying its own power source, about as fast as a squirrel. Today, its creators screened this video of the cheetah performing a robotics first: transitioning from a trot to a gallop midrun. During a trot, the cheetah keeps at least one paw on the ground at all times. Once the robot transitions to a gallop, the cheetah's entire body is in the air during each forward leap. The robot's creators plan to upgrade their bionic feline with new parts in the coming months, allowing it to travel more than twice as fast.
Smartphone-Powered Ant Navigates Hazy Terrain
Despite having a wide field of view, ants have surprisingly poor vision. While some ant species supplement their weak eyesight with pheromone trails to aid navigation, others use their pinhead-sized brains to analyze their surroundings and blaze their own path. Robotics experts today showed a video of a robotic ant they constructed using a smartphone and a special wide-angle camera lens. The robotic bug can navigate through tricky terrain by recognizing places it knows and plotting a course home (as shown in the above video). The ant robot team says its creation's pathfinding abilities could one day help rovers and robots navigate more autonomously on other planets.
Robotic Fish's Underwater Ballet
South American knifefish can wiggle their solitary fins in a wavelike motion to move in any direction in the water, even vertically. The nocturnal fishes' unique swimming abilities inspired the creation of GhostBot, an aquatic robot that swims using an artificial fin comprising 32 independently moving parts (as shown in the above video). GhostBot made an appearance at the meeting today where it flapped its fin in a tabletop demonstration. The machine’s creators say the fish's unique locomotion could help it respond to underwater disasters similar to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill where aquatic robots had difficultly properly swimming into position to mend the leaking well.
And don’t forget the termite-inspired robots that build with bricks, which made their debut at the meeting on Thursday.
See more of our coverage from AAAS 2014.