Since the time of the ancient Egyptians all the way up to modern Internet memes, human beings have long been fascinated with cats. Researchers from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switerland have looked to the feline form for reasons other than companionship and cuddles, though. They have designed a “cheetah-cub” robot that is roughly size of a house cat and can move quickly over uneven surfaces. Lightweight, agile, and fast, the catbot is able to run a full seven times its own body length in a second.
Although the machine lacks a head, it is clear by looking at the four legs and feet that the designers had cats on the brain when developing the robot. Three segments in each limb and their proportions are faithfully reproduced from the animal’s physiology. Springs and actuators replace tendons and muscles to recreate the cat’s swift and precise movements.
“This morphology gives the robot the mechanical properties from which cats benefit, that’s to say a marked running ability and elasticity in the right spots, to ensure stability,” says EPFL scientist Alexander Sprowitz. “The robot is thus naturally more autonomous.”
The metallic mouser is just a prototype at this point, but the scientists hope that their developments encourage further research into biomechanics. Featured in the latest International Journal of Robotics Research, it is the fastest in its class of robots under 30kg. Able to remain low to the ground and cover large areas in little time, the researchers see their invention having applications in disaster situations. It could potentially walk over terrain that is difficult to access for machines that sport wheels or treads. Better still, there’s no need for a litter box.