A research study into the running behaviours of the African guinea fowl could have wider implications for the future of walking biped robots and the improvement of prosthetic limbs.

Researchers at the Royal Veterinary College’s (RVC) Structure and Motion Laboratory (SML) say analysing the “swing-leg trajectory” of guinea fowl can unlock the secret of successful biped motion across complex and uneven terrain for robots.

Perfecting upright, balanced walking across any terrain for biped robots has long been one of the most important ambitions of robotics engineers.

The RVC is using the guinea fowl as its research focus because the bird can run at high speeds across different terrain, making adjustments to its gait, speed and step size almost instantly.

This allows the bird to effortlessly navigate the sand, grassland, potholes and flat services found in its natural environment.

The research team, led by senior lecturer in locomotor biomechanics Monica Daley, has recreated these terrain changes in the SML.

Dr Daley monitors the control rules used by guinea fowl to achieve balance when running at high speed through different combinations of the various terrains. The process is filmed and analysed with the data fed through computer simulations.

Biped birds and humans have similar gaits when walking and running, using the same basic motions, balance and timing.

Dr Daley said: “Analysing and monitoring the motion of biped animals offers a different perspective on solutions for bipedal robots.

“The guinea fowl are extremely agile and quick over uneven terrain, so the more we know about their movement dynamics, the more we can apply these principles to develop solutions for improved robotics and prosthetics.

“Current biped robotics can be slow and cumbersome and prosthetic limbs often don’t allow comfortable, natural gait over uneven terrain.

“But with further research and development, we could see may advances in the next few years, including improved prosthetic designs and other applications such as robots for disaster clean-up and, search and rescue in hazardous conditions.”

The research was funded by the Human Frontier Science Program, and carried out in collaboration with the Dynamics Robotic Laboratory at Oregon State University in America and has been published by academic journal PLOS ONE.

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