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SYFY WIRE Robotics

Speedy new amphibious robot patterned after the movements of lizards and roaches

By Jeff Spry
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The endless wonder of Mother Nature's design has been inspiring humans since our prehistoric ancestors dreamed of soaring into the heavens upon observing our feathered friends taking flight and gliding on an ancient breeze.

Now looking toward the world of insects and lizards to spur active imaginations and drive technological advances in robotics, a team of scientists from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) in Beersheba, Israel has developed AmphiSTAR, a scuttling, high-speed robot whose motion comes from observing the actions of basilisk lizards and cockroaches. The speedy machine has the ability to swiftly crawl across rough terrain, swim, and even scramble atop rippling pond waves!

Head for high ground and watch this palm-sized robot do its thing over surfaces like gravel, mud, rocks, dirt, grass, carpet, and concrete. 

Details on the creation of the AmphiSTAR robot and its specialized control system were delivered virtually last week at the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS) by Dr. David Zarrouk, director of the Bioinspired and Medical Robotics Laboratory in BGU's Department of Mechanical Engineering, along with colleague and graduate student Avi Cohen.

"The AmphiSTAR uses a sprawling mechanism inspired by cockroaches, and it is designed to run on water at high speeds like the basilisk lizard," said Zarrouk. "We envision that AmphiSTAR can be used for agricultural, search and rescue and excavation applications, where both crawling and swimming are required."

Zarrouk's lab equipped the little robot with four underbelly propellers whose axis can be tilted using the sprawl mechanism. Propellers work as standard wheels over ground and as fins to help scoot the robot over water in swimming mode or high-speed sprints over pond water. Twin air tanks allow the energetic 'bot to float and downshift smoothly between faster speeds while walking on water, a medium pace as it swims, then into a slower cadence as it crawls.

Future development will concentrate on the miniature machine's ability to maneuver underwater.