Who’s Faster? Robots or Animals?

The animal kingdom continues to be a rich source of inspiration for robot makers. However, a new report from Neuroscience News confirms that animals are still better than robots at locomotion.

This was not a foregone conclusion. Cars, trains, and planes all move faster and more efficiently than animals, after all. And when researchers from Harvard tested robotic and biological systems in five categories — power, frame, actuation, sensing, and control — they felt that the mechanical beasts did as well as the natural ones in several cases.

Putting all the systems together was a different story. The robots didn’t perform as well as the animals when all the systems were considered together as a whole.

The researchers concluded that this synthesis of multiple systems was the point of failure for the robots. As their paper in Science Robotics puts it, “they conclude that there must be as-yet-undiscovered principles of integration and control that give animals their advantage over robots.”

The animal advantage

Some of the benefits of being alive would be hard to transfer to machinery. For example, the muscles in legs that power running also metabolize energy from food. Robots can’t store energy and create fuel for their motors from it in the same way. It’s hard to see a way around that.

The same legs are richly endued with sensors, so that every part of the leg can react to information gathered while running, allowing adjustments to terrain that a robot just can’t match.

But even if we could create machines that do equally well in single areas like sensors and power supply (which at present we can’t), we would still have the problem of synthesis to deal with. Animals have a seamless integration among muscles, nerves, and brains that allows for complex adjustments and responses while running. Robots, on the other hand, struggle to replicate this level of interconnectedness and real-time control.

Animals can adjust their running style on the fly based on terrain or obstacles. Robots, for now, are often designed for specific environments and struggle with adapting to changing situations.

And of course when we say they struggle, we’re using the term metaphorically. Robots don’t even know that we want them to run faster.

These things could change in the future as we develop the capacities of robots. In the meantime, when your Indramat control systems need support, we can help. Contact us immediately for assistance.