Being light on their feet could significantly help robots in moving across surfaces like snow and sand, according to research by the Georgia Institute of Technology.
The research was published in the journal Bioinspiration & Biomimetics, and shows how the design of appendages, whether they be wheels or legs and feet, affects the ability of the robot to cross fragile or flowing surfaces.
Researchers used an air-fluidized bed trackway that was filled with poppy seeds or glass spheres to mimic different surfaces, including sand and snow. They also studied how animals like lizards and crabs move across surfaces, and in doing so they were able to come up with an appendage that can work across a range of surfaces.
"You need to know systematically how ground properties affect your performance with wheel shape or leg shape, so you can rationally predict how well your robot will be able to move on the surfaces where you have to travel," said Dan Goldman, a professor at Georgia Institute of Technology, in a statement.
When the ground gets weak, Goldman said, some animals can move around no matter what the surface properties are. His team wants to understand why that's possible.
As the surface became weaker, the robot performed worse, and researchers were able to study how fast the robot could move with the changes in how strong a surface was. The five animals that were studied all performed better than the robot, with the robot losing 70 percent of its speed, even when it was using wheels designed to lighten pressure on the surface. The best performer was a lizard collected in a California desert, C. draconoides, "because it has these ridiculously long feet and toes," he said, that reduce how far it penetrates into the loose surface.
Basically, the lighter the touch of the robot, the better it may be able to move around on surfaces, meaning that a robot with more appendages, spreading the weight around, maybe able to move better, demonstrating how resistive force theory works. The research could be extremely helpful in building robots that are able to move around on weak surfaces that they might not otherwise be able to move around on.