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Watch: Robot That Can Adapt to Physical Damage Was Inspired by Brittle Stars

14 December 2017

Researchers at Tohoku University and Hokkaido University have successfully developed a robot that is capable of immediately adapting to unexpected physical damage.

(a) Overview of a brittle star (left) and photographs of locomotion when it lost one of its arms (right). (b) Overview of the brittle star-like robot PENTABOT II (left) and photographs of locomotion when one of the arms was destroyed (right). The robot could keep moving by coordinating the remaining arms appropriately. Source: Ishiguro-Kano Laboratory(a) Overview of a brittle star (left) and photographs of locomotion when it lost one of its arms (right). (b) Overview of the brittle star-like robot PENTABOT II (left) and photographs of locomotion when one of the arms was destroyed (right). The robot could keep moving by coordinating the remaining arms appropriately. Source: Ishiguro-Kano Laboratory

This is the first time that a robot of this kind has been developed. The technology is a significant breakthrough because robots are expected to function in more tough environments and hazardous conditions.

Conventional robots can require a significant amount of time (tens of seconds) to adapt when they incur unexpected physical damage. In order to address this problem, the researchers, led by Professor Akio Ishiguro of the Research Institute of Electrical Communication at Tohoku University, focused on the brittle star. The brittle star is a primitive echinoderm that has five flexible arms. Brittle stars don’t have a sophisticated central nervous system, but they are able to immediately adapt to the loss of arms and can still move by coordinating the remaining arms.

The researchers studied brittle stars through behavioral experiments where the animal’s arms were amputated in various ways. They then proposed a simple, decentralized control mechanism where each arm kicks the ground, only when it has an assistive reaction force. This mechanism was put into a brittle star-like robot in order to demonstrate that it can adapt to unexpected damage within a few seconds, just like the echinoderm.

The researchers hope that this development will help robots to become more resilient and can work in inhospitable environments, like disaster areas. This research also provides insight into the essential mechanism underlying resilient animal locomotion.

A paper on this research was published in Royal Society Open Science.

To contact the author of this article, email Siobhan.Treacy@ieeeglobalspec.com


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