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Swiss Robotics Engineers Create a Better Robot -- Based on a Cat

Meet the Cheetah-cub -- a running bot whose anatomy and actions are like a cat. Researchers hope to develop it for search and rescue missions.

 |  Jul 5th 2013  |   1 Contribution


When you want a robot that can cover a vast range of hilly terrain, quickly and without falling over, what do you emulate?

Why, a cat, of course!

At least, that’s what researchers at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne's Biorobotics Laboratory found.

The new robot, dubbed the Cheetah-cub instead of the more appropriate term “O Cat, Most Puissant and Awesome of All Animals,” was designed as a first step for research toward the production of larger four-legged bots, which the researchers hope will be used for search and rescue or exploration in uneven terrain.

I totally geeked out when I watched the demonstration of the way the robot’s legs are designed: They have three segments that are the same proportion of a cat’s legs. Strings are used to reproduce tendons, and special motors called actuators mimic the muscles.

A diagram of the Cheetah-cub robot. Image courtesy of Biorobotics Laboratory, EPFL

Right now, the thing runs about three miles per hour. Given that cats achieve a maximum speed of 30 miles per hour at a dead run, the Biorobotics Laboratory researchers do have a bit more development to do before it can be a true kitty emulator.

Once they develop the bot to the point where it’s controlled wirelessly, I’m willing to bet that they’ll be able to program it to do a full-tilt cat run, as demonstrated in this video.

As you can see, a cat running at maximum speed is an amazing sight to behold: Her rear legs come forward almost to her shoulders, and she uses the strong muscles and flexibility of her back and hips to fling the rest of her body forward almost -- if not more than -- the full length of her torso.

Can you imagine what kind of life-saving awesomeness a search and rescue bot that can fling itself across crazy territory at 30 miles an hour, or more, could produce?

The Cheetah-cub is pretty cool, all right. Image courtesy of Biorobotics Laboratory, EPFL

But cats are still a lot cooler -- not to mention softer and more affectionate. When's the last time you snuggled up with a robot? Black cat standing in the yard by Shutterstock

The Biorobotics Laboratory also developed a bobcat robot, whose purpose is to show how movement of the spine assists quadruped robots. The researchers are also developing Oncilla-robot, a new and larger platform based on the design of the Cheetah-cub robot.

All this coolness makes me want to use my long weekend to start writing a science fiction novel featuring a search and rescue team … and an army of robot rescue cats. Of course, if they had artificial intelligence structures that thought and acted like real cats, the protagonists would have a heck of a time getting the robots to go where they needed to go. Hmmm ...

Robot vs. kitten ... go! Robot photo courtesy of Biorobotics Laboratory, EPFL; ginger kitten by Shutterstock

What do you think of the idea of building robots that emulate cats and other living creatures? What would you do with a robot cat? Share your ideas and opinions in the comments -- and as always, the weirder, the better!

About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer, and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003. JaneA dreams of making a great living out of her love for cats.

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