Scientists are now studying the walking patterns of spiders, crabs and other invertebrates to figure out how to control motion in robots.
Invertebrates’ neural systems, which govern how they move, are relatively basic — which makes them the ideal study subject. Researchers figured out that rhythmic impulses known as central pattern generators (CPGs) let the entity continue doing repetitive tasks like chewing or walking. Once the entity — let’s call him Spidey — knows that it has to get moving, the circuit-like CPGs kick in and keep it going. CPGs can then be linked together via neural impulses to create more complex actions, much like Spidey’s individual leg segments work in concert to clamber onto your face while you’re asleep at night.
So, having discovered this nifty fact, researchers are taking the next obvious step and using it in robots. Instead of having to program the robot so that an entire limb is coordinated, controller mini-CPGs can be placed on each joint and then linked via electronic messages. “You can concentrate first on each part of each leg, and design a controller mini-CPG for the ankle, for the knee, the hip and so on,” researcher Fernando Herrero said to the BBC. “Then, you connect them in such a way that you get a leg-CPG, that is, the ankle, knee and hips mechanism act co-ordinately.”
Researchers have already put this knowledge to use inside the control systems of a segmented robot worm, and one suspects that Dune-like sandworms are only a matter of time. “The key is to combine the right set of bio-inspired strategies with human engineering approaches to build a new generation of more autonomous robots,” Herrero explained. Yeah, that’s not creepy at all.
So, stop doing the robot. Instead, you should brush up on your crab walk or spider shuffle.