BBC News Online / Sci-Tech
June 28, 1999
Robots with legs powered by artificial muscles are being
developed to explore Mars.
A prototype of the machine - called a Birod (Biomorphic
Robot with Distributed power) - has been built at the
University of Arizona.
It moves using wires and springs which contract like muscles
when electricity is passed through them.
The Birods would be able to move across terrain restrictive
to wheeled robots, and carry up to 17,000 times their own
Four Legs Good
The prototype is a box supported by two legs with
stabilising wheels at the back. The working models, however,
would have four legs to enable them to step over obstacles.
Professor Kumar Ramohalli, head of the Birod programme,
said: "We are trying to imitate biological systems.
"Birods are much simpler than robots you have seen in the
The lack of complex machinery makes the Birod light and
reliable - ideal for space missions. They are also less
likely to have their workings damaged by dust, and take up
less space and payload weight on spacecraft.
Prof Ramohalli said: "Everything doesn't depend on central
control, so if one leg stops working everything doesn't jam
up and freeze. Birods can limp along on the other legs."
The Birod would be able to take "cat naps", the professor
said, able to rest and regain energy before springing to
life when action was called for.
"Robots with this kind of capability can hop over an
obstacle, turn over a rock, or crush a mineral sample. These
are things that today's robots can't do."
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