Researchers at the Carnegie Mellon University’s Robomechanics Lane along with the University of Cape Town are taking inspiration from nature in order to develop robotic tail designs which will allow the robots to carry out the orientation tasks easily. These findings were published in the IEEE Transactions on Robotics.
Video Credits: College of Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University
In nature, many animals make the use of their tails agility in order to make a turn or to recover over a slip of foot. Amongst all such animals, Cheetahs are capable to demonstrate precision, even when moving at a lightning fast speed, with their tails playing a major role in this function.
Using this technology in robots will prove to be beneficial in more than one way. It will facilitate the robots to move more freely in the natural terrains. However, there are many challenges in this process. Once a tail is added to the robot it will increase the mass of the robot and will also result in higher inertia. Inertia is a term given to a physical quality which describes an object’s resistance capacity to change in motion. The tail will also require higher energy costs.
Cheetah’s tail is known as an aerodynamic drag tail which is lightweight and furry in nature. For the Cheetah it acts as a parachute, despite all this, the Cheetah manages to retain its low inertia with its tail unlike other robotic tails. The aerodynamic tail of the Cheetah makes use of something known as the aerodynamic drag. With the help of this drag, this tail is capable of achieving high forces without generating a large amount of inertia.
The researchers found out that giving the robot an aerodynamic tail will allow it to rotate in the air as good as while having an inertial tail. But the important factor is that an aerodynamic tail is much lighter. Having a tail also results in better agility amongst robots. It will allow them better recovery from foot slips and will result in decrease in damage taken during the fall.
The researchers have also found out that by having a tail the robot can accelerate much faster than those robots that do not have a tail. The tail also provides the robot with a better control over its movements when it is required to slow down or speed up or turn in different directions.
According to Joseph Norby, a PhD student working along with Aaron Johnson, who is currently working as an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, “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.” He further adds that, “This research suggests that following nature’s inspiration results in equally capable tails for a fraction of the weight cost.”
Joseph Norby also clarified that, “Tails help to stabilize the robot, which is critical when it is performing difficult maneuvers. We believe that improving robot agility will make our robots better at aiding people outside the lab,” when the robots are able to move around in a better way they can be more effective and more useful. It also allows them in terms of functionality, to get more things done and reduces the amount of instability in their movements.