Scientists have invented the Pleurobot, a 3D printed robot that mimics the way salamanders walk and swim with unprecedented detail.
Inspired by the salamander species pleurodeles waltl, the Pleurobot is a cute little automaton that can walk, crawl, and swim underwater. It was designed and created by the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland.
The robot mimics the movements of its newty cousin thanks to an articulated spine and motorized joints, as well as 3D printed bones. It also has an electronic circuitry which functions as its nervous system.
Auke Ijspeert and his team at EPFL’s Biorobotics Laboratory have built salamander robots before, but this is the first which has been created using X-ray videos that captured the 3D motion of the amphibian’s actual skeleton.
The team have a theory that, from an evolutionary point of view, the salamander could provide vital clues about the first mammals with vertebrae — like us!
How was the Pleurobot created?
Scientists captured X-ray video of the top and side of a salamander to devise a robot which accurately replicates the amphibian’s movements. To do this, they tracked up to 64 points along its skeleton while it moved on land and in water.
To simulate the movement, the Pleurobot has 27 motors and 11 segments all along its spine, which is comparable to the amphibian’s 40 vertebrae and multiple joints (of which some rotate freely, as well as move up and down).
Neurologists have shown that whether the salamander walks, crawls or swims all depends on the electrical stimulation of the spinal cord. For example, at the lowest level of stimulation, the salamander walks and beyond a certain level, it begins to swim.
By learning more about the salamander’s spinal cord, new insights into the function of all vertebrates, including humans, can potentially be found.
One benefit of this, Ijspeert says, is that research in this area could help with the development of treatments for paraplegic patients and amputees.
If you’d like to learn more, check out the research paper just published in Interface, the official Journal of the Royal Society.
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