While walking robots are usually large and heavy and take cumbersome steps taking up a lot of energy, a cheetah on the other hand walks very fast and efficient. Folkertsma: “When you apply the knowledge on walking patterns of cheetahs, you can make robots walk a lot more elegant and especially, more efficient.” Folkertsma’s research yielded a lot of important knowledge that can be applied on future robots, for example, for the robots that will assist us in our household or in the health care sector, in future. The knowledge gained during the project can also be used for rehabilitation robots or advanced prostheses that are equipped with robotics.
Folkertsma has reviewed a lot of videos on cheetah’s and analysed their movements through software. The animal’s back turns out to be a crucial factor, because he uses it to exert force. By bending and stretching his spine, the cheetah becomes fast, moves around efficiently and is able to make enormous leaps.
“My robot is kind of an imitated skeleton with muscles and joints. Not everything is in exactly the same place as with the animal but the spine, shoulders and hips are. A real cheetah does not just run but also climbs trees, for example. Our robot doesn’t have to do that. Because, of course, I didn’t try to build a cheetah but only wanted to imitate his efficient way of running. The robot, for example, does not have a normal foot but a lightweight mechanism with springs that turned out to be more efficient.”
The prototype developed by Folkertsma weighs 2.5 kilos and measures 30 cm: twenty times lighter and four times smaller than a real cheetah. In relation – also taking into account the difference in weight- the prototype only uses around fifteen percent more energy than a real cheetah. The robot is now able to achieve a speed of around one kilometre an hour. Folkertsma: “For such a small robot that is already quite fast. More research has to be done in order to get him to run, proportionally, as fast as a cheetah. You would then have to go in the direction of twenty kilometres an hour. A masters-student is now working on a newly developed paw and the first signs with just a single paw are already promising. With four of these paws, the robot can run walk even faster; I think this will take us in the right direction.”