A six-legged robot based on stick insects just took its first steps

German engineers have built a new kind of robot based on a stick insect, and he’s just taken his first steps. (Aww.)

The device, called Hector, has an ultralight exoskeleton made from carbon-fibre-reinforced plastic and a lot of built-in sensors. He also has 18 highly responsive elastic joints on his six legs, meaning he can walk across uneven terrain without an issue. He was built by Bielefeld University’s Biomechatronics research group.

The engineers studied videos of stick insect movements to understand how their nervous system works and try to replicate this using computer models. Dr Axel Schneider, who led the team that developed Hector’s joints, says that they’re an effective reproduction of the way animal muscles actually respond.
Hector also has a central control system that’s essentially the robot’s nerve centre, allowing his legs to co-ordinate with each other. He’s far more sophisticated than previous animal models and in future will be used for research involving animal movement.

The team’s working to make him ever more impressive, including plans to add far-range sensors (made up of lateral cameras and tactile feelers) to his ‘head’. Dr Volker Dürr from the university’s Department of Biological Cybernetics says, ‘A major challenge will now be to find an efficient way to integrate these far-range sensors with the posture sensors and joint control sensors. Hector is the ideal research platform on which to do this.’

In the meantime, you can watch Hector’s first steps on YouTube.

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Diane Shipley