Going for the cute but deadly look
It seems like researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have been so in awe of the fox squirrels and their perfect and oh so precise little leaps from branch to branch that they have been closely studying the furry animal in hopes of getting some inspiration for an agile robot. According to the U.S Army, the split-second decisions that squirrels make while jumping mid-air from tree to tree will help scientists develop agile robots which is something that is hard to achieve in robotics.
While there have been a number of flying drones developed for the U.S military, the development of ground-based drones is still lacking. From the original MQ-1 Predator to the passenger-et-sized MQ-4 Global Hawk, all these were designed as flying drones. On the other hand, ground drones require a more thorough study as they need to face more complex obstacles in their environment. So if a robot is faced with a trick question of whether it should climb up a pile of rocks or jump across a trench, then it should be able to answer those questions as quickly as possible and make the next move.
For decades, roboticists have used examples of geckos and cockroaches to help build agile robots that can conquer intimidating challenges. But now the focus has shifted to making the robots learn how to make split-second locomotion decisions based on their own mechanical limitations. This is where squirrels come in. Squirrels possess the ability to judge an obstacle with their own agility in mind. So when they’re manipulated to make jumps to reach treats such as peanuts, they determine if a course of action like a leap from a log to the treat will be successful and then take action. While they’re not 100% successful in determining the end result, they never experience any falls and always make the jump, even if it means latching their claws into trees.
According to Dean Culver, program manager for Complex Dynamics and Systems at the U.S Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, “By studying how organisms (such as the impressive squirrel) decide how to jump and land to achieve their goal, we may learn more about how engineered systems of the future make decisions and actuate to respond to scenarios they haven’t been trained on.”
Future army robots may not entirely look like squirrels but researchers are hoping to incorporate their thinking capabilities in the robots and make the best use out of them for rescue operations and even battlegrounds.