Salamander Robot Walks and Swims Like the Real Thing

robot salamander bio mimicry EPFL
Scientists used X-ray videos of salamanders to build the robot. EPFL

Updated | A robot with joints, bones, and even an electronic “nervous system” has been built by scientists in an attempt to better understand the evolution of vertebrates.

The Pleurobot, developed by scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), mimics the Pleurodeles waltl salamander species in the way it walks, crawls and swims and is the closest engineers have come to accurately replicating the amphibian.

“What is new is really our approach to building Pleurobot,” said EPFL scientist Auke Ijspeert. “It involves striking a balance between designing a simplified bone structure and replicating the salamander’s gait in three dimensions.”

The scientists were able to understand and replicate the movements of the salamander by using X-ray videos of salamanders taken from the top and the side.

Ijspeert and his team designed Pleurobot with fewer bones and joints than a living salamander, using only 27 motors and 11 segments along its spine as opposed to the 40 vertebrae of the real-life creature.

“Animal locomotion is an inherently complex process,” said Kostas Karakasilliotis, an EPFL scientist who designed one of the first iterations of the Pleurobot. “Modern tools like cineradiography, 3D printing, and fast computing help us draw closer to understanding and replicating it.”

By better understanding the spinal function in vertebrates—a species of animals that includes humans—Ijspeert hopes it will aid the development of future therapies and devices for paraplegic patients and amputees.

This story has been updated to correctly identify salamander​s as amphibian and not reptile.