Scientists have developed a light- weight robotic cheetah that efficiently uses its energy to replicate the movements of the fastest land animal in the world. The scaled-down robotic version moves using only about 15 per cent more energy than a real cheetah. "As you might expect of the fastest land animal in the world, the cheetah makes very efficient use of its energy," said Geert Folkertsma from the University of Twente in the Netherlands. "I wanted to create a robot that runs the same way, with the aim of applying this knowledge to the development of new robots," said Folkertsma. "Robots are bound to play an increasingly important part in our daily lives and we therefore have to ensure that they can move effectively in our environment," he said. While walking robots tend to be large and heavy, taking cumbersome steps that use a lot of energy, the cheetah runs swiftly and smoothly. "By applying knowledge about the movement patterns of the cheetah, you can develop robots that walk more elegantly and above all efficiently," said Folkertsma. The research provides valuable knowledge that can be used to optimise the robots of the future, designed to support us in areas such as healthcare or housekeeping. The knowledge gained from the project can also be put to good use in rehabilitation robots or advanced prosthetics that are equipped with robotics. Folkertsma studied extensive video footage of cheetahs and used software to analyse their movements. The backbone proves crucial to the power this big cat generates. Bending and extending its spine enables the cheetah to move efficiently, run exceptionally fast and make huge leaps. "The main difference between existing walking robots and the cheetah robot is therefore the backbone," Folkertsma said. "The trick was to imitate it without complicating matters unnecessarily.
Instead of vertebrae and intervertebral discs, we worked with a cleverly placed spring which delivers approximately the same effect," he said. "Cheetahs are also able to store a lot of energy in their muscles for later use. This too is something we have imitated by fitting carefully selected springs in our robot's legs," he added. The prototype weighs in at 2.5 kg and is 30 cm long - twenty times lighter than a real cheetah and four times smaller. Taking into account the weight difference, the robot moves using only about fifteen per cent more energy than a real cheetah. The robot can currently reach a speed of about one kilometre per hour. "That's quite a pace for such a small robot," said Folkertsma.
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