Voice of America (Washington, DC)

South Africa: Cheetah's Tail Inspires Model for Robot's Stability

If you speed your bicycle through a curve, you have to lean to the inner side in order to keep your balance. Many fast moving animals do the same, often with additional help from their tails. A young scientist from South Africa successfully employed that concept to stabilize a fast-moving robotic vehicle.

Many animals use their tails to maintain stability when they run. The fastest land animal, the African cheetah, uses it even while braking.

A young scientist at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, Amir Patel, decided to see whether the same principle could be applied to vehicles.

"To investigate the effect that a swinging - or accelerating and swinging - tail has during a turn, you will see that there is a reactive torque on the rigid body, which would counter that toppling moment and thus keep the body in a straight line," said Patel.

Patel designed a fast moving, remote-controlled vehicle with a removable tail that can swing from one side to the other.

While cornering at high speed without the tail, the vehicle would lose balance and tip over. Adding the tail with a counterbalance on its end improved the vehicle's stability.

Patel believes the same principle could be applied to sports cars or vehicles for fast-response rescue teams. "We hope to use this application on high-speed, search-and-rescue applications. So where a robot needs to enter a time-critical situation and needs to be able to maneuver, we can use the tail to perform these rapid maneuvers," he said.

Patel said studying how animals perform in different situations can be converted to mathematical models that may show how robots would do under similar circumstances.

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