Birds Make Better Bipedal Bots Than Humans Do

Wed, 06 Apr 2022 03:45:00 GMT
Scientific American - Technology

A new machine called BirdBot balances walking efficiency and speed

Twelve years ago the researcher, now at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart, Germany, was attempting to design a legged robot based on bird biology.

"It's not their goal to build a robot," Bardi-Spröwitz notes.

The two researchers, along with members of Bardi-Spröwitz's lab, have created BirdBot-a bipedal machine that may one day explore terrains such as dense forests, where wheeled or treaded robots cannot move.

For roboticists, birds make a particularly interesting point of study because they, like humans, walk upright on two legs.

"Given that there are around 10,000 living species of bird and only one species of human, birds have a lot to offer us in understanding how bipedalism can work," says Peter Bishop, a biomechanics researcher at Harvard University's Museum of Comparative Zoology, who was not involved in BirdBot's creation.

A bipedal bird not only has to deal with such repeated collisions; it must also be able to balance on one foot.

Like humans, birds have muscles and tendons that stretch over multiple joints, forming a pulleylike structure that can automatically move the connected bones in certain ways.

BirdBot uses a five-joint network that mimics the leg motion of a flightless bird, such as an ostrich, as it runs in the wild.

Ideally, he envisions avian-inspired robots lending humans a hand in forestry and sustainable agricultural practices.

"Legged robots can overcome those obstacles where wheeled robots are currently blocked," Bardi-Spröwitz says.

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