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Leaping Lizards and Dinosaurs Inspire Robot Design

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leaping red-headed African Agama lizard

A red-headed African Agama lizard swings its tail upward to prevent forward pitching after a slip during take-off.

Credit: Robert J. Full Lab / UC Berkeley

University of California, Berkeley researchers are developing robots based on lizards, giving the robots tails to help them maintain balance. "Inspiration from lizard tails will likely lead to far more agile search-and-rescue robots, as well as ones having greater capability to more rapidly detect chemical, biological, or nuclear hazards," says Berkeley professor Robert J. Full, who is working with engineers in the university's Center for Interdisciplinary Bio-inspiration and Research lab.

The researchers used high-speed videography and motion capture to record how a lizard handled leaps from a platform with different degrees of traction, from slippery to easily gripped. To better understand the lizards unique adaptations, the researchers created Tailbot, a toy car equipped with a tail and small gyroscope to sense body position. When body position was sensed and fed back to the tail motor, Tailbot was able to stabilize its body in midair. Full says the actively controlled tail redirected the angular momentum of the body into the tail’s swing, as happens with leaping lizards.

"Robots are not nearly as agile as animals, so anything that can make a robot more stable is an advancement, which is why this work is so exciting," says Berkeley graduate student Thomas Libby.

From UC Berkeley News Center
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