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How to understand the movement posture of an animal? Scientists can bring them into the laboratory, let them walk on the treadmill, and then directly observe.
What if it was an ancient creature that lived hundreds of millions of years ago and left only fossils? Faced with a skeleton that doesn’t move, how do we know whether it’s belly sticking to the ground when it’s alive, or prop up the body with its limbs, how to know how its limbs swing?
This time, let the replica robot walk the treadmill for it!
This skeleton-only robot animal is called “OroBOT”, and its prototypeOrobates pabstiLiving in the early Permian (approximately 290 million years ago), when vertebrates had not landed on the land for a long time. Through the control of 28 motors, OroBOT straddles the limbs, twists the spine, and walks on the treadmill in different postures, helping researchers speculate on the most likely walking postures of this early land animal to further understand the land. The evolution of the footed animal.
(Orobates pabsti fossil, picture source: Thomas Martens)
Orobates pabstiNot only is it old enough to have complete bone fossils, but also the corresponding footprint fossils can be referenced, so it was selected as the research object. The researchers carried out a tomographic scan of the fossils to build a three-dimensional model of the whole body’s skeleton. At the same time, they also observed the walking postures of several living animals as a reference. How to observe? It is still necessary to invite them on the treadmill, and this time at the same time, X-ray fluoroscopy is also required to see the bones in motion clearly.
(A newt walking on a treadmill, which provides reference data for this study. Video source: biorob2.epfl.ch)
After collecting the reference data, it is time to test various walking postures. Many of these tests are performed through computer simulations, but it is still very important to actually let the robot take two steps: This can help researchers better verify the simulation results and further understand the energy consumption and balance of various walking postures.
After testing hundreds of parameter combinations, the researchers believe that this prehistoric quadruped walking method is more “advanced” than expected: they can already support the body with limbs, and the walking balance and energy efficiency are also good . In other words, prehistoric quadrupeds may have mastered efficient walking methods earlier than scientists expected.
If you want to feel walking in different posturesOrobates pabsti, You can also visit the website established by the researchers: https://biorob2.epfl.ch/pages/Orobates_interactive/
Original paper: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-018-0851-2
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