Show me an animal that waddles and I'm immediately delighted. Show me a robot that waddles and is also a skeleton and I may as well have died and gone to heaven. Enter — wiggling gently with a slightly stupid grin on its skull-like face — the latest robotic creation from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland: the Pleurobot.
Pleurobot is a robotic investigation into the walking gait of Pleurodeles waltl; a type of salamander endemic to the Iberian peninsula in Europe. Researchers from the EPFL created X-ray videos of Pleurodeles (it's technically a newt, but newts are part of the salamander family) to study its movements in both the water and the air. They tracked 64 individual points in its skeleton, and ended up creating a simpler version of its spinal using 3D-printed joints
"What is new is really our approach to building Pleurobot," says lead researcher Auke Ijspeert in a blog post on EPFL's website. "It involves striking a balance between designing a simplified bone structure and replicating the salamander's gait in three dimensions."
Creating this robotic model will allow researchers to learn more about the gait of salamanders and vertebrates in general. Particularly interesting is the role of the spine in controlling motion, as neurobiologists have shown that salamanders can be made to walk, crawl, or swim, just by simulating the spinal cord with different levels of electricity. Ijspeert says that research in this area can help with the development of treatments for paraplegic patients and amputees.
Wait, so this is a robot skeleton salamander which is also helping people in need? Bestill my heart.