Robotic Scientists at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne In Lausanne, Switzerland have designed and created a biomimetic mechanoid based around the structure and movement patterns of the Salamander. Named the “Pleurobot:, the mechanical counterpart was designed with an articulated vertebrae that allows the robot to slither on both land or at sea. The robot features 3D-printed bones, motorized joints and electronic circuitry as its “nervous system”. ‘EPFL’ explains that:
“Animal locomotion is a very interesting interplay between the body, the spinal cord, and the environment,” “The novelty of this work is really the approach we took, to try to be as close as possible to the real physics of the body.”
Furthermore TechCrunch explains that during the designing process, the bones and limb angles were carefully tracked. The research found that the salamander goes from crawling to walking to swimming simply by doing the same basic motion at higher speeds.
The breakthrough further revealed that there is no need to create a robot that is required to change its form in order to go from striding to swimming meaning that the amount of mechanical parts required could be dramatically minimized.
“In the design process, the researchers identified the minimum number of motorized segments required, as well as the optimal placement along the robot’s body. As a result, it could replicate many of the salamander’s types of movement.” – EPFL
The end result saw the Pleurobot with fewer bones and joints than an actual salamander. Within the robot there are 27 motors with 11 spine segments compared to what would normally have 40 vertebrae joints. Some of these with the ability to rotate freely, move side by side or up and down.
Although the Pleurobot looks like a toy at this stage, understanding the intricate connection between one’s brain, the spinal cord and the movement of the body is an understanding that benefits a number of scientific fields such as Neuroprosthetics as EPFL have discussed.
“Being able to re-stimulate those circuits in humans in the long term is something very important, and for that you need to understand how the spinal cord works.”
In conclusion the team hopes to pursue other “biorobots” in their investigation of other types of movement and neural organization.