Flying geckos can use their tails to stabilize their landings after crashing into trees at speeds of up to 13 miles per hour, a new study has revealed.
According to the developers at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart, a drone based on the small lizard’s remarkable crash-landing capabilities opens the door to future airborne robots that could land on walls or upside down.
They found that the colorful creatures use their tails to stabilize themselves after shoving their heads into a tree trunk so they couldn’t fall to the ground.
Corresponding author Dr. Ardian Jusufi said structures resembling gecko tails can stabilize drones when landing on a vertical surface.
This could lead to robots that can land in inaccessible places and help search and rescue after a landslide or building collapse, or during military operations, they said.
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Flying geckos can use their tails to stabilize their landings after crashing into trees at speeds of up to 21 miles per hour, new study has revealed
A drone based on the small lizard’s remarkable crash-landing capabilities opens the door to future airborne robots that could land on walls or upside down, according to developers at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart.
THE MULTI-TALENTED GECKO: FROM WALKING ON WATER TO SLIDING
The climbing ability of geckos gives them an agility that is rarely surpassed in nature.
With self-adhesive slats on their feet, geckos can easily climb on smooth vertical surfaces.
These amazing creatures can even move on an upside-down ceiling thanks to their sticky feet.
Their ability to run on water is another superpower for these little lizards.
Now one more can be added: the ability to crash into a tree at high speed without getting hurt.
Recent studies have shown that they can use their tail as a fifth leg to stabilize themselves after sliding from one tree to another at high speed.
Geckos are “multi-talented superheroes” according to the German researchers, who said they can climb on slippery vertical surfaces, walk upside down on a ceiling, run on water and now land on a vertical surface after a 13-mile-per-hour glide. .
Co-author Dr Robert Siddall said nature has many unexpected, elegant solutions to technical problems.
This is beautifully illustrated by the way geckos can use their tails to convert a head-on collision into a successful sitting maneuver.
Landing from the plane is difficult. We hope that our findings will lead to new techniques for robotic mobility – sometimes crashes are useful.’
The team built two soft gecko-like machines – one with a tail and the other without realizing how important the tail was to its stability.
In trials, the former landed on a Velcro-covered vertical surface 55 percent of the time — a success rate four times better than the latter.
The researchers first collected video footage showing that geckos are capable gliders — despite having no specializations for flying.
It adds a new chord to their arc of incredible superpowers. They have a legendary agility that is rarely surpassed in nature.
The highly adhesive pads of the feet, called slats, allow them to easily scale smooth vertical surfaces — or move on an upside-down ceiling.
They found that the colorful creatures use their tails to stabilize themselves after sliding their heads into a tree trunk, preventing them from falling to the ground.
An image sequence of the fall arrest response. Corresponding author Dr. Ardian Jusufi said structures similar to gecko tails could stabilize drones while landing on a vertical surface
The high-speed cameras recorded wild geckos leaping from a platform 25 feet above the ground and sliding into a nearby tree.
Close-up analysis revealed that they landed at 21 mph by crashing their heads forward and swinging their torsos and tails against the fuselage.
A car traveling at the same speed would have been badly dented – but they were not scratched and never lost traction with their front feet as their torso and head swayed back.
Close-up analysis revealed they landed at 21 mph by crashing their heads forward and swinging their torsos and tails against the fuselage
Ardian Jusufi with a gentle gecko-inspired robot. Two soft gecko-style machines were built by the team – one with a tail and the other without seeing how important the tail was to its stability
CREATING A ‘DIGITAL GECKO’ TO STUDY THE LITTLE LIZARDS
The scientists created a physical model of a gecko to better understand the forces the animal experiences.
Their gecko-inspired robot has a soft torso, the tail of which can be removed and put back on.
When the front foot hits a surface, the robot is programmed to bend its tail, much like the reflex seen when the gecko bumps into a pad.
The information is processed via a microcontroller on the shoulder.
This signal triggers the motor to pull on a string, pushing the tail into the wall to slow the head down.
They tested it by catapulting a soft robotic lizard onto a wall with a built-in force-sensing shell.
To mimic a tree trunk, they lined the wall with felt and snapped on the robot’s Velcro-padded feet.
The robot struck the force plate as abruptly as the geckos hitting the tree, tilting its torso at right angles to the surface.
The roboticists then measured the force that the robot’s front and hind legs withstood upon impact.
The longer the tail, they found, the lower the force to pull the hind feet away from the surface.
The lower that force, the easier it is for the robot to hold.
Without a tail, however, the forces on the hind legs become too high – the robot loses grip, bounces and falls.
Falling was prevented by pushing their tails against the tree ‘like a fifth leg’ – then stabilizing their footholds.
The robots were then launched from a catapult to mimic the rapid landing of a glide and only the one with a tail worked consistently.
dr. Jusufi said: “The results of field observations, as well as computer models, indicate that the tail increases landing stability and success by reducing the foot forces needed to hold the robot to the vertical surface.”
The Asian flat-tailed gecko lives in the jungle and can jump or slide many meters from one tree to another to avoid predators.
It still accelerates when it lands – so everything happens in the blink of an eye.
The team, which includes biologists in the US, hopes the discovery will lead to a new generation of superdrones.
dr. Jusufi said: ‘This discovery in the field about the sitting behavior of geckos has important implications for our understanding of tails as multifunctional appendages that animals can rely on.
‘From inertia to contact tails, they facilitate the most extreme transitions, such as from gliding flight to collision with a wall.
“One of the most dramatic transitions we can think of in multimodal locomotion is landing on a vertical surface from fast hovering to standing still.”
It is the first time the gliding behavior of the amazing animal has been quantified, as it is difficult to film the small, camouflaged lizard in the rainforest.
“It used to be thought that contact tails were used to maintain grip during fast runs against the wall,” said Dr Jusufi.
“The findings presented here suggest that geckos exhibit behavioral exaptation to improve landing success in the wake of their directed air drop.”
He added: ‘The robot allowed us to measure something that we couldn’t with geckos in the field.
“The reaction forces of the wall at the landing impact confirmed that the tail is an essential part to facilitate landing in subcritical glides.
“Our soft robot lander not only helps to make an impact in another area, but can also help improve the robot’s locomotion by increasing robustness and simplifying control.”
The study is published in the journal Communication biology.
BOSTON DYNAMICS’ SPOT
Boston Dynamics first showcased SpotMini, the most advanced robotic dog ever made, in a video posted in November 2017.
The company, best known for Atlas, its 5 feet 9 (1.7 meters) humanoid robot, has unveiled a new “lightweight” version of its robot Spot Mini.
The robot dog was shown trotting around a yard, with the promise of “more information coming soon from the notoriously secretive company.”
“SpotMini is a small four-legged robot that fits comfortably in an office or at home,” the company says on its website.
It weighs 25 kg (55 lb), or 30 kg (66 lb) including the robot arm.
SpotMini is all-electric and can last about 90 minutes on a charge, depending on what it does, the company says, boasting “SpotMini is the quietest robot we’ve built.”
SpotMini was first unveiled in 2016, and an earlier version of the mini version of Spot with a strange extendable neck has shown that it helps around the house.
The company’s previous video shows the robot leaving the company’s headquarters and walking towards a house.
There it helps load a dishwasher and carries a can to the trash.
He also encounters a fallen banana peel at one point and falls dramatically – but uses his extendable neck to push himself back up.
SpotMini is one of the quietest robots we’ve ever built, the company says, thanks to its electric motors.
“It has several sensors, including depth cameras, a solid state gyro (IMU) and proprioception sensors in the limbs.
‘These sensors help with navigation and mobile manipulation.
‘SpotMini performs some tasks autonomously, but often uses a human for high-level guidance.’