To escape danger or catch prey, running vertebrates rely on dynamic gaits with minimal ground contact. By contrast, most insects use a tripod gait that maintains at least three legs on the ground at any given time. One prevailing hypothesis for this difference in fast locomotor strategies is that tripod locomotion allows insects to rapidly navigate three-dimensional terrain. To test this, we computationally discovered fast locomotor gaits for a model based on Drosophila melanogaster. Indeed, the tripod gait emerges to the exclusion of many other possible gaits when optimizing fast upward climbing with leg adhesion. By contrast, novel two-legged bipod gaits are fastest on flat terrain without adhesion in the model and in a hexapod robot. Intriguingly, when adhesive leg structures in real Drosophila are covered, animals exhibit atypical bipod-like leg coordination. We propose that the requirement to climb vertical terrain may drive the prevalence of the tripod gait over faster alternative gaits with minimal ground contact.
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In the attempt to build adaptive and intelligent machines, roboticists have looked at neuroscience for more than half a century as a source of inspiration for perception and control. More recently, neuroscientists have resorted to robots for testing hypotheses and validating models of biological nervous systems. Here, we give an overview of the work at the intersection of robotics and neuroscience and highlight the most promising approaches and areas where interactions between the two fields have generated significant new insights. We articulate the work in three sections, invertebrate, vertebrate and primate neuroscience. We argue that robots generate valuable insight into the function of nervous systems, which is intimately linked to behaviour and embodiment, and that brain-inspired algorithms and devices give robots life-like capabilities.
We are witnessing the advent of a new era of robots — drones — that can autonomously fly in natural and man-made environments. These robots, often associated with defence applications, could have a major impact on civilian tasks, including transportation, communication, agriculture, disaster mitigation and environment preservation. Autonomous flight in confined spaces presents great scientific and technical challenges owing to the energetic cost of staying airborne and to the perceptual intelligence required to negotiate complex environments. We identify scientific and technological advances that are expected to translate, within appropriate regulatory frameworks, into pervasive use of autonomous drones for civilian applications.