Watch a 12-legged “myriapod” robot trek about in calm, curved lines

The myriapod robot making its way towards several targets. Credit: 2023, Aoi et al., Soft Robotics

A team of Japanese researchers has made a 12-legged, centipede-like robot that taps into its own instability to move.

Robotic legs are still not as good as their organic counterparts: controlling lots of legs at a time on uneven terrain needs a lot of computation, and damage to just one limb can cause the whole bot to malfunction.

But new research published in Soft Robotics has pointed to a way around this, with a “myriapod”-inspired robot.

“We can foresee applications in a wide variety of scenarios, such as search and rescue, working in hazardous environments or exploration on other planets,” says co-author Mau Adachi, a researcher at Osaka University.

The robot has six segments, each with a pair of legs attached and a motor that can adjust the flexibility of each leg.

Three photos and one diagram of robot design
The myriadpod’s design, and the flexible screws that make it work. Credit: 2023, Aoi et al., Soft Robotics

This causes a process called “pitchfork bifurcation”, where straight walking is very unstable. But this instability can cause the robot to walk in a curved line, and the researchers can control its direction by manipulating the flexibility.

This means that there’s much less computational complexity involved, because the researchers are controlling flexibility rather than the precise movement of the body.

Diagram showing curvature of walk increasing depending on instability
Stable and unstable walking patterns happen depending on the body-axis flexibility. Credit: 2023, Aoi et al., Soft Robotics

“We were inspired by the ability of certain extremely agile insects that allows them to control the dynamic instability in their own motion to induce quick movement changes,” says co-author Shinya Aoi, also at Osaka University.

In their paper, the researchers demonstrated that the robot could navigate towards targets in curved lines.

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