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Squirreling into the robotics field: How nature influences new-age technology

Squirreling into the robotics field: How nature influences new-age technology

Research published by Nathaniel Hunt and others in August 2021 provides interesting food for thought for budding scientists. Research on squirrels’ movements and their possible utility in helping design robotic movements is an exemplary insight into how nature inspires technology.
Squirrels will risk a long-distance leap when traversing trees if there is a solid branch to land on. Even if their next pause is shaky, a squirrel's extremely skilled recovery abilities, honed via previous mistakes, almost always allow them to secure the landing. According to research released in August, these two lessons from our fuzzy companions might be beneficial in determining how agile robots examine a target to jump toward and how they recover missed targets.

Like squirrels, the future generation of quick, nimble-legged robots may identify possibilities to exploit certain characteristics of the world around them that directly complement their own capabilities, says research author Nathaniel Hunt, a biomechanical engineer at the University of Nebraska, via email. "Sensors and perception may be engineered to immediately detect just the necessary information that enables movement decisions and control while disregarding an enormous quantity of extraneous information." 

Scientists placed wild fox squirrels through an obstacle course in a eucalyptus grove on the University of California, Berkeley campus to learn more about how squirrels effectively move from branch to limb. The researchers looked at how the squirrels changed their leaps based on branch flexibility, timing their launch a little sooner, and how they prepared for distance and height variation, turning in mid-air to locate anything to bounce off to give them a lift. They ultimately performed the move with ease after going through a challenging leap a few times.
Engineers creating robots for "inspection and maintenance, working in the house, and even exploration," according to Hunt, could take a few lessons from these bushy-tailed rodents.

As robots leave laboratories and begin to do work in the real world, they must deal with the ambiguity of communicating with various surfaces and objects made of various materials that are hard or soft, smooth or rough, and they must respond accordingly when they collide into something, lose momentum, or something else unexpected happens, "he says. Hopefully, the new discoveries will boost contributions to nature-inspired technology trends, and researchers will use such revelations in practical robotics events.