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15 Things Robot Designers Can Learn From Cats

Georgia Tech researchers are studying cats' "righting reflex" to design robots that land softly. Here's what else they should consider about cats.

Susan C. Willett  |  Dec 18th 2014

Humans have long admired the ability of cats to always land on their feet — known as the cat righting reflex. The flexible bodies of our feline friends allow them to twist as they fall. It’s no wonder then, that researchers at Georgia Tech are studying the way cats flex and turn in the air — so they can apply what they learn in designing robots that can land without sustaining damage.

The applications are numerous: the ability to drop a robot into place in a disaster zone, for example, or for dangerous search-and-rescue operations.

This got me thinking about what other cat qualities scientists could study to make better robots. Here are 15 of them, with pictures.

1. Staying within prescribed boundaries

You wouldn’t want your personal robot to wander off your property.

2. Listening device

Imagine the uses of a robot that can hide itself and tune in to all the sounds of its surroundings.

3. Blend into the environment

Also useful for spying applications; imagine the intel — and mice — such a device could bring back.

4. Vertical climbing ability

Scaling walls makes hard-to-reach places much more accessible.

5. Navigate uneven terrain

A robot that can traverse any type of obstacle can reach its destination no matter the circumstances.

6. Finding and tracking

Spotting a desired target and tracking its movement has many applications. Researches may have to look elsewhere (dogs) for retrieval.

7. Fit into tight spaces

This is very useful for search-and-rescue operations, or in case the robot needed to hide from visitors.

8. Self-cleaning

Sending a robot into disaster areas (like my son’s room) might result in an accumulation of dust and grime; a robot that is capable of cleaning itself would require less maintenance.

9. Flexibility and maneuverability

Tight corners and twisting routes would be no challenge for a robot that could bend and flex.

10. Night Vision

This helps any device navigate in dark places, like under the bed, or deep within a closet.

11. Retractable probe and grasping arm

Small objects can be found and pulled from the tiniest spaces.

12. Accurate timekeeper

WIth a built-in clock as accurate as the world’s most sophisticated atomic clock, a robot could be programmed to perform tasks at specific times.

13. Heat-seeking capability

Finding a source of heat would enable a robot to quickly locate a missing person. Particularly if that person has a laptop.

14. Solar recharger

For longer missions where there is little or no access to electricity, the ability to recharge via sunlight would be extremely useful.

15. Self-stowing

There is nothing better than a robot that packs itself into a storage containment unit when its mission is complete.

Have I left anything out? Are there other things scientists can learn from cats to help them design robots?

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About the author: Susan C. Willett is a writer, photographer, and blogger whose award-winning original stories, photography, poetry, and humor can be found at Life With Dogs and Cats. She lives in New Jersey with three dogs and four cats (all rescues) and at least a couple of humans — all of whom provide inspiration for her work. Refusing to take sides in the interweb’s dogs vs. cats debate, Susan enjoys observing the interspecies interaction among the varied inhabitants of her home — like living in a reality TV show, only furrier. In addition to Life With Dogs and Cats, you can find more Lilah, Jasper, and Tucker (and the rest of the gang) on Haiku by DogÔäó, Haiku by CatÔäó, and Dogs and Cats Texting.