New 'Roboreptile' Climbs Just Like a Real Lizard

Researchers studied lizards for years to apply their agile movement to robotics.
Chris Young

Robots, such as Boston Dynamics' famous Spot, have a pretty good handle on horizontal movement.

Though strides have been made with climbing robots, they are a little more cumbersome — and more likely to end up looking like upturned turtles.

Now, scientists at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia developed a robot that mimics the movement of a lizard to reach new heights.

Named X-4, the prototype climbing robot replicates the movement of a lizard and could be used in the future for disaster relief, remote surveillance, and even space exploration, the researchers explain in a press release via Techxplore.

Mimicking years of evolution to make climbing robots

In a study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the team states that they decided to replicate the movement of lizards because the reptiles have optimized their movement across difficult terrain over many years of evolution.

"The best configuration for the climbing robot happened to be exactly what the lizards were doing, so the lizards themselves had already found the optimal gait for climbing," Lead author and USC Ph.D. candidate Johanna Schultz explained.

A vital finding in the research was the discovery that the lizard's front feet rotate 20 degrees and its rear feet rotate 100 degrees. 

New 'Roboreptile' Climbs Just Like a Real Lizard
X-4 alongside a real reptile. Source: Schultz et al./Royal Society

"By understanding which parameters influence an animal's locomotion, we might be able to define what a robot would have to look like and how it would have to move depending on what we want the robot to do: be super-fast, super stable, or something in the middle," Ms. Schultz said.

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Research supervisor Dr. Christofer Clemente said there is potential for lizard-inspired robots to assist with operations such as remote inspections for electronics in remote locations — startup Eelume Subsea Intervention recently announced its own snake-like underwater maintenance robot in a similar vein.

"The Mars rover can't get to a lot of places it needs to go because it's on wheels, but a legged climbing robot could access these areas," Clemente explained.

The researchers say that studying the movement of lizards holds a great deal of potential in the field of biomimetics, which applies findings from the natural world to the robotics solutions of the future.

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