Named X-4, the climbing robot from the Sunshine Coast University in Australia could well inspire the next generation of robots. This lizard robot is designed to be able to reproduce the movements of the animal and climb. Which could prove useful in case of disaster or for space exploration.
X4, a climbing lizard robot, could revolutionize how a robot travels by mimicking the animal's mobile gestures. In a scientific paper published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, researchers at Sunshine Coast University in Australia say lizards have optimized their movement over difficult terrain over many years of evolution.
Lead author Johanna Schultz studied the movement of lizards for four years. She and her team observed that as they evolved, they perfected their movement in terms of speed, stability and efficiency. "The best configuration for the climbing robot happened to be exactly what the lizards were doing, so the lizards themselves had already found the optimal gait for climbing," she explains.
Such insights could help researchers create a formula for optimizing robotics, a field often dominated by a focus on improving environmental perception and autonomy through artificial intelligence, rather than motion and structure. Robots have been able to climb stairs and hills for years, but hanging on and moving across 90-degree surfaces presents a unique set of challenges.
A climbing robot inspired by nature
One of the main findings of the research concerns their legs. Lizards turn their front legs 20 degrees and their back legs 100 degrees. "The orientation of their feet is not at all aligned with their direction of climbing," revealed Johanna Schultz. "By understanding which parameters influence an animal's locomotion, we might be able to define what a robot would have to look like." This kind of innovation creates a new form of mobility for robots if stability and speed is what you're after. The lizard-sized agile robot is 15 cm long, weighs 250 grams, and is mainly built from 3D printed parts.
"Studying animals is a fantastic way of pushing forward engineering and manufacturing," said Christofer Clemente, research supervisor. "We can almost jump over the step of testing because the animals have done it already. It's very exciting."
For the moment, this robot is able to crawl along the walls up to the ceiling. The goal for the researchers is to add a camera and to increase its autonomy. It could become a robot used for communication or be used in search and rescue operations. And its unique science of motion could allow future space exploration robots to discover new horizons.