Losing An Arm Doesn’t Bother Starfish Bot

Drawing inspiration from starfish, scientists in Japan have developed a robot that can maintain its movement even when one of its limbs is damaged.

AsianScientist (Dec. 25, 2017) – Researchers at Tohoku University and Hokkaido University in Japan have developed a robot capable of immediately adapting to unexpected physical damage to maintain locomotion. They published their findings in Royal Society Open Science.

Conventional robots tend to require a considerable amount of time (several tens of seconds) to adapt when they incur unexpected physical damage. To address this problem, researchers led by Professor Akio Ishiguro of the Research Institute of Electrical Communication at Tohoku University, focused on a brittle star—a primitive echinoderm with five flexible arms. Brittle stars lack a sophisticated central nervous system, yet are able to immediately adapt to an arbitrary loss of their arms and still move by coordinating the remaining arms.

Based on behavioral experiments involving brittle stars whose arms were amputated in various ways, the researchers proposed a simple decentralized control mechanism which allowed the robot to adapt to the damage of any of its five arms. Within a few seconds of being damaged, the robot was moving again on its remaining limbs.

The researchers hope that this finding will help develop resilient robots that can work in inhospitable environments such as disaster areas. It also provides insights into the essential mechanism underlying resilient animal locomotion.

The article can be found at: Kano et al. (2017) A Brittle Star-like Robot Capable of Immediately Adapting to Unexpected Physical Damage.


Source: Tohoku University; Photo: Ishiguro-Kano Laboratory.
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