Robot Melts Its Bones to Change How It Walks

IEEE Spectrum

Joints that are reconfigurable on the fly help this small robot avoid obstacles

Different animals are optimized for different things, and this optimization is reflected in the structures of their bodies. It’s especially evident in the skeletons of animals designed to move around on land, where there’s a crazy diversity of limbs and joints and feet. There are some generalizable structures that tend to work well, like having hips and knees and ankles and feet, but if you look at the difference between the skeleton of an ostrich and the skeleton of an elephant, you’ll get a sense of just how much wiggle room there is.

Unfortunately for animals, optimization means that while they’re excellent at some things, they struggle with other things, because they’re not able to redesign and re-optimize their skeletons on the fly, because how on earth would that even work, right? But robots suffer no such biological constraints, and roboticists at Colorado State University have developed a small walking robot that can melt and solidify its bones on the fly to optimize its legs for different motions.

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