Researchers Watch Three-Legged Dogs Run for the Sake of Robotics

By Joseph Calamia | July 1, 2010 12:43 pm

dogrunAfter a presentation on “hydraulic leg extension” in large spiders and another on “aspects of octopedal locomotion,” researchers attending today’s Society for Experimental Biology annual meeting learned how to run like a three-legged dog.

Martin Gross of the University of Jena in Germany presented a project that could one day teach disabled planet-exploring robots how to keep trekking or damaged military robots how to survive the battlefield. Watching how his brother’s dog adapted to losing a leg, Gross was impressed with both the dog’s coping methods, and speed.

“The one with only three legs is still the fastest of all his dogs,” Gross told the BBC.

A contributor to the European LOCOMORPH project, which studies robot movements, Gross hoped to learn how to improve robot motion from these injured, but far from disabled dogs. After getting the dogs (some with a missing hind leg and some a missing front leg) to wear a series of reflective tags, Gross recorded their movements as they walked and ran using ten high-speed infrared cameras. (Head to the BBC to check out the video.)

As reported in Scientific American, Gross’s team analyzed the data from the tags’ motions to get a closer look at the canines’ remastered coordination. Among other things, they found that the dogs’ coped more easily with hind leg loss–since the their front legs bear most of their weight.

The dog research may soon benefit robots–as the BBC reports, Gross has already made some small, four-legged robots to test. Given recent but unrelated advancements with animal prosthetics, it looks like other researchers might also soon help the dogs.

Related content:
Discoblog: Meet Oscar, the Bionic Cat
80beats: Meet the First Robot That Can Walk on Sand (and Maybe Sandy Planets)
80beats: Slithering Snakes Reveal the Secret of Limbless Locomotion
DISCOVER: The Biomechanics of . . . Cockroaches

Image: flickr / TheGiantVermin

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