AI News, Scurrying roaches help researchers steady staggering robots

Scurrying roaches help researchers steady staggering robots

Normally, tedious modeling of mechanics, electronics, and information science is required to understand how insects' or robots' moving parts coordinate smoothly to take them places.

But in a new study, biomechanics researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology boiled down the sprints of cockroaches to handy principles and equations they then used to make a test robot amble about better.

The mechanical robot, a consumer model, had four stubby legs and no nervous system but relied instead for locomotion control on coarse physical forces traveling through its chassis as crude signals to roughly coordinate its clunky gait.

'The measure is general (universal) in the sense that it can be used regardless of whether the signals are neural spiking patterns, kinematics, voltages or forces and does not depend on the particular relationship between the signals,' the study's authors wrote.

'The idea has been that the stick bugs have the more localized control of motion, whereas a cockroach goes very fast and needs to maintain stability, and its motion control is probably more centralized, more clocklike,' Neveln said.

It could be code traveling through an elaborate robot's wiring, a cockroach's central neurons synching its legs, or the clunky robot's chassis tilting away from a leg thumping the ground thus putting weight onto an opposing leg.

If a few, say six, metronomes—ticking rhythm pendula that piano teachers use—are swinging out of sync, and you place them all on a platform that freely sways along with the metronomes' swings, the swings will sync up in unison.

All the legs' waves can be averaged into an overall roach scurry wave and then developed into more useful math that relates centralization with decentralization and factors like entropy that can throw locomotion control off.

The resulting principles and math benefited the clunky robot, which has strong decentralized signals in its leg motors that react to leg contact with the ground, and centralized control weaker than the stick bug's.

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