When it comes to biomimetic design, one trend is for researchers to borrow ideas from bugs and animals to apply to locomotion. This has yielded some truly freaky free-roaming robots, based on everything from fleas to snakes to centaurs. But industrial automation company Festo is applying one animal's qualities to a robot that will stay right where I want it: Bolted to the floor of a factory.
For two years, Festo's Bionic Learning Network team has been studying the kangaroo, and specifically the way it jumps, in an effort to understand energy recovery. A kangaroo is able to hop across large swaths of the Australian outback at 15 miles per hour in an energy-efficient way, storing energy on the landing that it can re-release for the next jump. The thinking is that if an industrial robot could similarly store and release energy with each stroke, as it swings back and forth on a production line, a significant energy savings could be achieved.
This month the researchers have unveiled their BionicKangaroo as a proof-of-concept. Interestingly enough, it involves what amounts to large rubber bands that are loaded on each stroke by motors in the hips, and the powered tail itself serves as an additional limb by providing both tripod-like support and balance during jumps:
Unsurprisingly, YouTube commenters are divided. One explains the point of the project eloquently:
It's an exercise in engineering; It's about learning how to design the overall structure, as nature has already found great solutions (see aircraft and birds). For example how it handles the powers exerted on the various parts during jumping/landing. Consequently you test, fail and discover the electronics needed to recreate it, forming the materials used for the exoskeleton, finally writing the software to handle it all. It requires an understanding of many fields and can lead to new solutions, parts and software in other fields.
This comment was answered by a darker view, which we will leave unedited for posterity:
thats true but you can still hang a granade around the kangeroos neck and then launch a vicious attack imagine a hundrets of thousands kangaroos coming to your position you just have to teach the kangeroo how to pull the granade and who says there is no bionic elefant in the pipeline
My robophobia aside, I swear I didn't write that last comment.