Robosnail and mimcking of animal locomotion

MIT’s Fluid Dynamics Lab seems to be on a biomimicry roll. I recently wrote about the robostrider. Now it is the robosnail that mimics the locomotion of snails. Their 3-link swimmer is actually very interesting as well, but has yet to receive its 15 minutes of media-fame like its siblings. This kind of research obviously helps biologists understand animals’ locomotion and is probably very interesting from the microfluid perspective (I wouldn’t know), but making use of animal locomotion methods in robots and vehicles definetly opens a range of new possibilities.

More examples of mimicking of animal locomotion can be found at MIT’s Leg lab of which I’ve been a fan for a long time. A well designed legged robot or vehicle could make its way to places that wheeled vehicles have no change of getting to, just ask anybody who is into horses. In a similar way snail locomotion could allow small robots to climb vertical or even overhanging surfaces to reach difficult places. Such use probably has limits in size and weight of the robot. And now that people have been able to reproduce how geckos’ manage to stick to almost any surface, it can’t be too long until we see robots that can climb walls with ease (think: window cleaning and construction aides).

In order to make full use of animal locomotion methods one has to be able to grasp its full dynamics and that has proven to be no easy task. When for example an animal runs, the gait is not simply set to a certain rythm, but much rather to be able to instantly respond to any hole, bump or hurdle it may encounter (otherwise you’d twist your ancle and/or stumble every time you stepped on a stone in the path). The point could be made that the locomotion alone is only half the achievement without the intelligence (artificial or human) to select the routes and deal with unexpected hurdles.

More links:
MITs RoboSnails model novel movements (MIT News)
MITs RoboSnails (Roland Piquepaille’s Technology Trends)
MIT scientists looking to unlock the secrets of a snail’s pace