Prehistoric Vehicles: Paving a Path to the Future

Researchers are studying the acrobatic tendencies of jumping lizards, and their findings could translate to some interesting new technology.

The origins of their research date back to the Cretaceous period, 75-71 million years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Researchers have been experimenting with leaping lizards, recording their movements on video camera and recreating them with robotics to help develop new machines and vehicles. The abstract of the research study is as follows:

In 1969, a palaeontologist proposed1 that theropod dinosaurs used their tails as dynamic stabilizers during rapid or irregular movements, contributing to their depiction as active and agile predators. Since then the inertia of swinging appendages has been implicated in stabilizing human walking23, aiding acrobatic manoeuvres by primates4, 5678 and rodents9, and enabling cats to balance on branches10.”

Here we report that lizards control the swing of their tails in a measured manner to redirect angular momentum from their bodies to their tails, stabilizing body attitude in the sagittal plane. We video-recorded Red-Headed Agama lizards (Agama agama) leaping towards a vertical surface by first vaulting onto an obstacle with variable traction to induce a range of perturbations in body angular momentum. To examine a known controlled tail response, we built a lizard-sized robot with an active tail that used sensory feedback to stabilize pitch as it drove off a ramp. Our dynamics model revealed that a body swinging its tail experienced less rotation than a body with a rigid tail, a passively compliant tail or no tail.

You can read more by purchasing the report here.

The physical capabilities of dinosaurs have been theorized for decades, and that research looks like it will soon have an affect on our lives. Here is an approximation for how raptors may have moved through the world, including jumping:

Largesttheropods 2

Image via Wikipedia

Scientists hope to use their findings to help engineer a new breed of vehicles that would benefit from bipedal robots; we could see implementation into wheelchair accessible vans and other utility vehicles. Fox News spoke with Robert Full about these applications:

When it comes to potential robotic applications for this work, “inspiration from lizard tails will likely lead to far more agile search-and-rescue robots that can deal with the rubble often found resulting from a disaster,” Full said. “Legged robots will also have a greater capability to more rapidly detect chemical, biological or nuclear hazards that might occur in a subway or populated area.”

These new developments in robotics paint the picture of a future that’s closer to science fiction than the reality to which we’re accustomed. Robotics is beginning to play a larger role in our lives as the technology finally catches up with the ideal. New advancements like Big Dog (the robot that will never fall down), EATR (the robot that sustains itself on human flesh), and a robot that can brush a cat are paving the way to a society more akin to The Matrix and The Terminator.

Let’s just hope the robots are on our side.

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