Industrial Electronics

Video: Translating cheetah agility to robots

22 April 2021

Cheetahs are known as one of the fastest and maneuverable animals on the planet. Part of their agility is due to their tails. But how can this agility be ported to robots to allow them to move through terrain. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s Robomechanics Lab have found ways to overcome these challenges inspired by the cheetah’s tail.

While the furry tail of a cheetah is an aerodynamic drag tail, it also acts like a parachute. Robotic tails have high inertia, but a cheetah’s tail retains low inertia. To maximize the effectiveness of the tail while minimizing inertia, researchers constructed a tail of their own.

Researchers found that an aerodynamic tail can allow the robot to rotate in the air as well as an inertial tail but found that an aerodynamic tail is much lighter. Additionally, a robot with a tail can accelerate faster than a robot without a tail, despite the increase in mass from the tail, allowing the robot to control its movements like slowing down, speeding up or turning.

“Robotic tails have historically relied on high inertia tails because of their simplicity, but nature has already figured out that there are better ways to stabilize agile motions,” said Joseph Norby, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie. “This research suggests that following nature’s inspiration results in equally capable tails for a fraction of the weight cost.”

The research suggests that tails are effective at improving robot agility and will recover from foot slips and decrease damage during a fall. The better a robot can move, the more effective it can be and ultimately help people in real world situations, the team said.

“Tails help to stabilize the robot, which is critical when it is performing difficult maneuvers,” Norby said. “We believe that improving robot agility will make our robots better at aiding people outside the lab.”

The full research can be found in the journal IEEE Xplore.

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