RHex Robot Developed at UofPA to Replicate Sandfish Lizard’s Ability to Walk on Sand

Published by , November 12, 2018 1:12 pm

(WSJ) A long-standing difficulty for robots is moving through sand, which covers a third of the Earth (including several recent combat zones for the U.S. military) and even more of our nearest planetary neighbors. Because sand is composed of small grains that together can act like a fluid or a solid, depending on the conditions, its subtle physics creates sinkholes that can quickly bury large objects.
But some animals such as the sandfish revel in sand can dive and swim through it, whipping and churning its legs to take advantage of sand’s fluid or solid properties. To replicate some of that motion, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania developed RHex, a robot with six quick-whipping legs, and a scaled-down version dubbed the Sandbot. RHex modulates the speed of its distinctive feet to keep the sand from becoming fluid, like a person walking on thin ice. The robot is now being manufactured by Boston Dynamics for military applications, among others.

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