Scientists have revealed that robots could learn from running birds such as ostriches.
The researchers have learned that bird species, which predominately live on land and scurry around on the ground are also some of the most sophisticated runners of any two-legged land animals. These characteristics may have been evolving since the time of the dinosaurs and, some would say, now transcend the ability of other bipedal runners, including humans.
In a new study, researchers from Oregon State University, the Royal Veterinary College and other institutions have outlined how running birds have achieved an impressive ability to run while minimizing energy cost, avoiding falls or injury, and maintaining speed and direction.
Running birds come in an enormous range of sizes, from tiny quails to an ostrich that has 500 times as much body mass. Most, but not all, can fly, but spend most of their lives on the ground, and they don't always look the most graceful when they run and the study found that they maximized the results while keeping their priorities straight - save energy and don't break a leg. In the wild, an injury could lead to predation and death; and in like fashion, when food resources are limited, economy of motion is essential.
Modern robots, by contrast, are usually built with an emphasis on total stability, which often includes maintaining a steady gait. This can be energy intensive and sometimes limits their mobility.
What, the scientists said, is that it's okay to deviate from normal steady motions, because it doesn't necessarily mean you're going to fall or break something. Robotic control approaches "must embrace a more relaxed notion of stability, optimizing dynamics based on key task-level priorities without encoding an explicit preference for a steady gait," the researchers said in their conclusion.
The researchers added that the running robots of the future are going to look a lot less robotic and will be more fluid, like the biological systems in nature. They are not necessarily trying to copy animals, but they do want to match their capabilities.
The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.