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Sprinting Robot research at Georgia Tech

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One feature that allows animals to move so well is that they have legs that can perform many functions:

"Legs allow the animal to climb over ledges, sprint over hard ground, paddle through soft ground and potentially kick through fluids," said Daniel Goldman, assistant physics professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

For this study, researchers started out with a simple toy robot. They took of the legs and replaced them with legs of different shapes that were 3-D printed.

Each leg is made up of little plate elements. A robotic arm uses a sensor to measure the force of all those little elements, which adds up to give scientists the total force of each leg. All of this is done before the legs are placed on the robot. 

The researchers can predict the performance of a model by plugging this data, from different-shaped legs, into a special simulation called a multi-body simulation. The model can predict how robots will move over grainy surfaces.

They learned that "C"-shaped legs worked better than those that are saddle or Pringle-shaped, for example. 

In the future, this information can help engineers optimize limb shape to create better small robots to explore unknown environments, like Mars, or search-and-rescue missions, where the ground may not be solid.

In time, we might be able to apply this framework for how little devices move across sand to bigger vehicles, Goldman said.

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