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New Israeli Robots Move Like Animals (Article and Video)

NY1: July 24, 2009 - Adam Balkin

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Watch a short video of the slithering robots and hear from Dr. Amir Shapiro.

Not all strange-looking robot prototypes come from Japan. Some interesting robots were recently brought to the United States from the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel. Their creator, Amir Shapiro, says he often draws inspiration from actual animals when designing metal ones.

"We actually look at nature and try to copy but we cannot copy exactly because we have different materials and actuators," says Shapiro. "So we try to mimic nature -- it's called biomimetics." He has created two robotic snakes for search and rescue missions.

"The first snake robot is a two-dimensional snake robot that can go forward and backward," says Shapiro. "It has special links that can keep rolling contact with the environment. So it moves while having continuous contact with the environment without breaking contact, and this is especially good when climbing between walls or inside pipes."

Another model snake can move more freely, no matter which end is up. Another robot, built to inspect the outside of ship hulls, can climb up nearly-vertical inclines, thanks to feet filled with magnets. "They are mounted on springs which are compliant and allow the wheels to adjust to the metal plate and even go over obstacles like rivets," says Shapiro.

Finally, two other robot models are relatively easy and inexpensive to produce, as they're made out of a Lego NXT set that can be bought at any toy store. "I think that now we are in the beginning of a new era when robot hardware is getting more and more cheaper," says Shapiro.

"Computers are getting faster and faster and it will be more available to the public because of the price." Shapiro says when robots are not being used for recreation they should be primarily performing in situations too dangerous for humans.