The cat righting reflex could significantly impact robot design
Exploring the natural ability of cats to land on their feet is aiding researchers at Georgia Tech in the development of robots. The cat righting reflex, which results from an unusually flexible backbone and lack of a functional collarbone that allow cats to twist in midair, could significantly impact robot design and help to produce robots that are able to land softly on the ground. Karen Liu, an associate professor at Georgia Tech’s School of Interactive Computing (IC), is looking into the physics surrounding not just falling cats, but the midair orientation of divers and astronauts as well.
However well-equipped robots may be to calculate and execute optimal falls, current motor and servo technology simply doesn’t allow them to move fast enough. In an effort to solve this issue, the team studied the impact of simulated falls on a small robot made of a main body and two symmetric, paddled legs. They mimicked the conditions of a long fall with a reduced-gravity environment that consisted of a slightly tilted, nearly frictionless surface outfitted with a leaf blower, allowing the robot adequate time to adjust itself and land successfully on its “feet.” Liu says that robots able to calculate and execute the optimal sequence of positions quickly enough to minimize damage sustained in a normal fall could have practical future applications in search-and-rescue operations.