Beyond biomimicry: Scientists find better-than-nature run style for six-legged robots

Researchers have found a running style for six-legged robots that significantly improves on the traditional nature-inspired method of movement.

The research, conducted by scientists at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and the University of Lausanne (UNIL) in Switzerland, found that as long as the robots are not equipped with insect-like adhesive pads, it is faster for them to move with only two legs on the ground at any given time.

Robotics has in the past few years made heavy use of biomimicry – the practice of mimicking natural systems – resulting in six-legged robots being designed to move like insects. In nature, insects use what is known as a tripod gait, where they have three legs on the ground at a time, so it had been assumed that this was the most efficient way for similarly legged robots to move.

However, by undertaking a series of computer simulations, tests on robots and experiments on Drosophila melanogaster – better known as the common fruit fly – the scientists found that the two-legged approach, which they have dubbed the bipod gait, results in faster and more efficient movement.

The core goal of the research, which is published today in the journal Nature Communications, was to confirm whether the long-held assumption that a tripod gait was best was indeed correct.

“We wanted to determine why insects use a tripod gait and identify whether it is, indeed, the fastest way for six-legged animals and robots to walk,” said Pavan Ramdya, study co-lead and corresponding author.

Initially, this involved the use of a simulated insect model based on the common fruit fly and an algorithm designed to mimic different evolutionary stages. This algorithm simulated different potential gaits to create a shortlist of those that it deemed to be the fastest.

This, however, shed light on why insects have a tripod gait – and why it may not be the best option for robots. The simulations showed that the traditional tripod gait works in combination with the adhesive pad found on the ends of insects’ legs to make climbing over vertical surfaces such as rocks easier and quicker.

Robots, however, are typically designed to walk along flat surfaces, and so the benefits of such a gait are lost.

“Our findings support the idea that insects use a tripod gait to most effectively walk on surfaces in three dimensions, and because their legs have adhesive properties. This confirms a long-standing biological hypothesis,” said Ramdya. “Ground robots should therefore break free from only using the tripod gait”.

Study co-lead authors Robin Thandiackal (left) and Pavan Ramdya with the six-legged robot used in the research. Images courtesy of EPFL/Alain Herzog

To for always corroborate the simulation’s findings, the researchers built a six-legged robot that could move either with a bipod or tripod gait, and which quickly confirmed the research by being faster when moving with just two legs on the ground at once.

However, they went further by confirming that the adhesive pads were in fact playing a role in the insect’s tripod movement.

They did this by equipping the fruit flies with tiny polymer boots that would cover the adhesive pads, and so remove their role in the way the insects moved. The flies’ responses confirms their theory: they began moving with a bipod-like gate rather than their conventional tripod-style movement.

“This result shows that, unlike most robots, animals can adapt to find new ways of walking under new circumstances,” said study co-lead author Robin Thandiackal.

As bizarre as the research sounds, it provides valuable new insights both for roboticists and biologists, and could lead to a new standard in the way that six legged robots are designed to move.

“There is a natural dialogue between robotics and biology: Many robot designers are inspired by nature and biologists can use robots to better understand the behavior of animal species,” added Thandiackal. “We believe that our work represents an important contribution to the study of animal and robotic locomotion.”

Researchers believe modified CRISPR could be used without editing DNA

Researchers from the US' Salk Institute have used CRISPR as a switch that turns genes on and off and allows harmful mutant genes to be disabled without affecting the structure of their DNA. Until this development gene editing using CRISPR carried the risk of causing unintended effects.

Source: Gizmodo

Nissan to trial robo-taxis in Japan next year

The carmaker Nissan is is partnering with Japanese software company DeNA to test self-driving taxis on Japanese roads from March next year. The free trials will be held over a two-week period in March in Yokohama, and Nissan believes the service could be officially launched in Japan in the early 2020s.

Source: BBC

Apparently, gaming can save your brain

Research participants who played 3D platforming games like the iconic Super Mario 64 had more gray matter in their hippocampus after playing, That part of the brain transforms short-term memories into long-term ones and maintains the spatial memory that helps us navigate the world around us.

Source: Inverse

San Francisco votes to restrict delivery robots

San Francisco officials have voted to restrict where delivery robots can go in the city, amid concerns about the safety of pedestrians, particularly elderly people and children. Start-ups will now have to get permits to use such bots, which will be restricted to less crowded urban areas.

Source: BBC

Steam stops accepting Bitcoin

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Source: Ars Technica

The maker of Budweiser beer reserves 40 Tesla electric trucks

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Source: Reuters

The UK government is launching a fintech competition to help renters get on the property ladder

The UK government is offering £2 million to fintech developers who come up with a tool that lets renters record and share their payment data.

The Rent Recognition Challenge, which was first announced as part of the chancellors’ autumn budget, will task developers with finding a way to record payment data from Britain’s 11 million renters in a bid to improve their credit scores and ultimately help them to get a mortgage.

“Most lenders and Credit Reference Agencies are unable to take rental data into account, because they don’t have access to it.

“The Rent Recognition Challenge will challenge firms to develop an innovative solution to this problem and help to restore the dream of home ownership for a new generation,” said the economic secretary to HM Treasury, Stephen Barclay.

Economic secretary to HM Treasury, Stephen Barclay. Image courtesy of Chris McAndrew

The competition will provide an initial round of grant funding to six promising proposals to help turn their ideas into workable products.

A panel of leading figures from the Fintech sector will then whittle the six down to just a handful of teams who will receive further funding and support to bring their ideas to market.

“People’s monthly rent is often their biggest expense, so it makes sense for it to be recognised when applying for a mortgage. Without a good credit score, getting a mortgage can be a real struggle.”

Image courtesy of Jeff Djevdet

The government’s attempt to help more people out of private renting arrangements and into home ownership comes after Scottish Widows published a report that warned tomorrow’s pensioners will have to find huge amounts of money to pay ever-escalating rents to private landlords.

Scottish Widows projected one in eight retirees will be renting by 2032, which works out to three times the number renting today. It also said there is a £43bn gap between the income and savings people have now and what the rent bill will be in retirement.

Speaking to the Guardian, Dan Wilson Craw of campaign group Generation Rent said: “The common perception is that retirees either own their home outright or have a council tenancy, so the government will be in for a nasty shock as more of us retire and continue to rent from a private landlord.

“Many renters relying on pensions will qualify for housing benefit which will put greater strain on the public finances.”

The Rent Recognition Challenge will open to applications early in the New Year, and development will conclude in October 2018.