Over the past few years, many scientists have looked to nature for inspiration and brought us robotic animals ranging from fish to cheetahs, fleas and even bees. The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology‘s latest development—an amphibious salamander-like robot named Salamandra robotica II—is poised to help researchers to gain greater understanding of how vertebrates move.

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The Swiss team unveiled their robot via an article in the IEEE Transactions in Robotics. Their creation has also been invited to the Innorobo 2013 robotics exhibition that takes place this week  in Lyon.

The new generation robo-salamander is much more powerful than its predecessor, which was built in 2007, and is able swim and walk on land thanks to its foldable limbs. The robot is controlled via a series of powerful microcontrollers that, via a digital neural network, tell the robot to swim, crawl or walk based on the intensity of electrical signals running through its “spinal cord” circuits. A member of the team on a laptop can send signals to the robot’s brain allow it to alter its speed, direction and gait via simple electronic signals.

Unlike other robot animals which are used for military or search and rescue purposes, the robo-salamander was designed to understand the systems that vertebrates use to move—and what can go wrong. Hopefully, the information gleaned will help to cure severe spinal damage in the future.

+ Swiss Federal Institute of Technology

Via New Scientist

Images: Kostas Karakasiliotis, Biorobotics Laboratory, EPFL.