German scientists create robotic ape

Clambering across an artificial crater, the robot’s gait is unmistakable - it looks as if Germany’s robot experts have been inspired by Planet of the Apes.

The iStruct robot lumbers across landscapes on four limbs, with the heavy, rhythmic walk of a gorilla - thanks to a an “active” artificial spine, which ensures the four-legged robot is more mobile on rough terrain.

The spine works alongside other components to create a complex biomechanical system capable of traversing obstacles that would defeat wheeled vehicles - the robot even shuffles to balance itself on moving surfaces, shifting its centre of gravity as the ground tilts beneath it. 

The iStruct “robot ape” is under test as a potential space explorer at the German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) - and is just one of several “biologically inspired” robot explorers under test, including robot insects.

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“One of the benefits of walking machines is their ability to exert force in all directions and at different scales on the environment,” DFKI says.

The robot’s feet include 43 pressure sensors, plus a distance sensor in the heel and an accelerometer, all monitoring the robot’s gait as it walks.

NASA is also investigating robots far removed from today's wheeled Rovers - NASA’s Robonaut 2 is a wheeled vehicle, but armed with highly dextrous “human-like” hands.

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“One advantage of a humanoid design is that Robonaut can take over simple, repetitive, or especially dangerous tasks on places such as the International Space Station," NASA says. "Because R2 is approaching human dexterity, tasks such as changing out an air filter can be performed without modifications to the existing design."

"Another way this might be beneficial is during a robotic precursor mission. R2 would bring one set of tools for the precursor mission, such as setup and geologic investigation."

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