Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Robotics Science Hardware Technology

Like A Cat, New Robot Lands On Its Feet 263

Posted by timothy
from the pfffthhpt dept.
eckenheimer writes "Students at the Physics Department at Drury University have developed a robot that uses motions and contortions of its body to orient itself in zero gravity. According to the project site, 'If you've ever seen a cat land on its feet after falling while upside down then you've seen the idea behind our project.' The effort is a proposal for the NASA Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Like A Cat, New Robot Lands On Its Feet

Comments Filter:
  • Like a...? (Score:5, Funny)

    by SIGALRM (784769) * on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @01:21PM (#9698367) Journal
    If you've ever seen a cat land on its feet after falling while upside down
    I'm looking forward to their "like-a-dog" model: word on the street is, licks its own ass.

    Now that's using "motions and contortions".
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @01:22PM (#9698380)
    ...to stick on its back and we'll have an antigravity engine.
  • Where's the beef? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I see no completed robot, no performance data or even a simulation of how it will perform in the real world. Just a REAAALLY bad web site (No page navigation? Come on!) and some digital photos of these kids and their drawings. The dates in the pages and some photos are from fall of 2003. If these were college seniors (as it says in the "meet the team" section) at the time they have already graduated by now, and abandoned these pages.

    How is this newsworthy?
    • Re:Where's the beef? (Score:5, Informative)

      by enforcer999 (733591) on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @01:33PM (#9698536) Journal
      Here [drury.edu] you go. It is not a very "pretty" robot but it could have its uses.

      • Couldn't they just build a robotic sphere covered with dozens of feet?

        Young engineers these days... always making everything so dang hard.
      • Re:Where's the beef? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Animats (122034)
        That's not too impressive. They're not even close to active stabilization. All they're doing is rotating a weight that also moves in and out from the axis of rotation to change the moment of inertia. This gets them a little net angular motion. Big deal. I've seen wind-up toys do that.

        Since it's a one-axis device, there's no need to test it in a zero-G environment. Hanging it from a string would work equally well.

        There's useful work to be done on three-axis stablization algorithms, but this isn't i

  • Can we apply some kind of techno-butter to one side to see if the robot can stay in a constant state of airborne suspension?
    • Because cats always land on their feet and toast always lands buttered side down, you can construct a perpetual motion machine by simply strapping a slice of buttered toast to a cat's back. When the cat is dropped it will remain suspended and revolve indefinitely due to the opposing forces.
      • Re:doesnt work (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Lord Bitman (95493) on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @02:05PM (#9698882) Homepage
        do the math you twit. Perpetual motion is still impossible because toast doesnt care what side it lands on when it's already got fur all over it.
    • Can we apply some kind of techno-butter to one side to see if the robot can stay in a constant state of airborne suspension?

      Bah, can't we put this to rest?

      The cat/buttered bread assembly is a hoax. What would and does happen is that the mass of the cat and the ability to land on it's feet far outweigh the attractive forces of the tiny amount of butter to the floor. If you increased the mass of butter to counter the mass of the cat, you would not have a hovering cat/butter object, but something that sl
      • Bah, can't we put this to rest?

        BOO! This guy doesn't have a sense of humor... )-:

        What would and does happen is that the mass of the cat and the ability to land on it's feet far outweigh the attractive forces of the tiny amount of butter to the floor. If you increased the mass of butter to counter the mass of the cat...

        YEA! You do have a sense of humor after all! ^_^

        I'm not scientist, but do know that cat's backs do not repulse the floor; if you hang a cat upside down 3" above the floor and drop i

  • Thats where I want to send my kid for some zero grav training...then they can save the word for us....
  • by thedogcow (694111) on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @01:25PM (#9698424)
    This was explained to me in my physics for engineers class...

    Cats reposition themselves to land on their feet because they can sense the change in velocity (dv/dt = acceleration). My professor stated this only works for small height values (less than 20 ft), otherwise, the acceleration due to gravity might result in an unpleasant aftermath.
    • I recall reading a bit about how after the 10th floor, cats cat spread thir legs and "glide" to slow down enough to survive. Statistics show that there are more feline fatalities between floors 3-10 then there are after 10.
      • Statistics show that there are more feline fatalities between floors 3-10 then[sic] there are after 10.

        I bet statistics also show that there are more buildings with top floors between 3-10 than there are buildings > 10. But what do I know?
      • by no longer myself (741142) on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @01:48PM (#9698713)
        I'm just having this morbidly funny image of people throwing cats out windows as part of a government study to test that "statistic":

        "Damn, Bob... Did you see that? He might have made it if that cab driver hadn't run over him."

        "Yeah, Pete. Let's take this tabby up to the 23rd floor. Oh, by the way, did you hear they're working on a robot that mimics this sort of behavior."

        "I think I did read something about that, Bob, but tossing an expensive piece of hardware out the window just isn't as satisfying."

        "You've never owned a Mac, have you, Pete?"

      • I heard this statistic many years ago, but a different reason. I had heard that the cats tend to relax when falling more than 10 floors.

        This is discovered by people who own apartment dwelling cats who are curious about the outside world.

        Picture in my mind is of a cat, sitting on a ledge: "I wonder what it's like out there... ok... brace... JUMP!... ok, ok, ok... oh, I guess this is what it's like... relax..." WHAM!
    • by Rob Carr (780861) on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @01:36PM (#9698567) Homepage Journal
      Cats reposition themselves to land on their feet because they can sense the change in velocity (dv/dt = acceleration). My professor stated this only works for small height values (less than 20 ft), otherwise, the acceleration due to gravity might result in an unpleasant aftermath.

      Actually, it's the short falls [uaf.edu] that tend to kill cats. Cats (like skydivers) can assume a position that reduces the terminal velocity and presents the greatest surface area for impact, reducing the force per unit of surface area. It takes a while to rotate and get into the position, so if the fall is too short, the cat will land in an awkward position and is far more likely to die.

      This is not to say that the cats that fell from a great height were uninjured - just that they were more likely to have non-fatal injuries.

      • by eunos94 (254614) on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @01:54PM (#9698765)
        I call bullshit. This study has one HUGE flaw in it. I remember in college when this study was brought up in a statistics class. The flaw can be summed up in one clear thought.

        "No one brings a clearly dead cat to the vet."

        If the fall is high enough, the odds of living decrease and therefore no cats are brought to the vet unless they miraculously survived. The study self-selects for those cases. Ergo...bad stats. Grrr...the bane of my social sci existence.

        • That study does have that huge flaw, but I wonder what the terminal velocity of a cat is? If it is low enough then it could survive from any 'reasonable' height (where reasonable means we do not need heat shields for reentry).

          I doubt we could convince the ASPCA to give us unadopted cats for the required experiments.

        • " I remember in college when this study was brought up in a statistics class. No one brings a clearly dead cat to the vet."

          Then your statistics class was flawed.

          I'll grant that people are less likely to bring a dead cat to the vet. But that simply won't explain the data.

          Trauma produces a spectrum of results, from "uninjured" to "dead." The curve is basically bell shaped, but as the forces involved increase the curve will skew toward "dead."

          Let's divide the result of the cat impact up into 6 groups:

          1. u
          • To start with, a study of 115 cats is far from quality data. But given the data, let's take a look a little closer.

            First, there is no bell curve in this study. They reported "Three of the cats were dead upon arrival and 8 more died in the next twenty-four hours, leaving 104 living cats or about 90%". All we know is that 104 of the 115 cats survived. There is no data as to the amount of trauma they incurred, so dividing them into 6 groups is pointless.

            Secondly, we don't know how many cats are falling

            • by Anonymous Coward
              Ok, so lets conduct an experiment: throw 500 cats from an airplane, say 3,000 ft. above ground level. This way we are certain terminal velocity is attained. Record the bell-curve survival rate. Those on the ground doing the counting, wear a helmet.
            • by Suidae (162977) on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @04:21PM (#9700540)
              I wonder if, given an inverted starting attitude, there is a certain height at which the fall would be less dangerious if it were either higher or lower.

              Above this height the cat would have had time to attain a fully non-inverted attitude and so would better cope with higher impact forces. Below this height and although the cat would still be in a bad attitude, the velocity attained would be sufficently small that injury would be less likely.

              This experiment would require a standard cat, as I would expect that small, fluffy, long-haired cats with tails would have a lower terminal velocity than enormously fat, bald, tailless cats. Likewise, previously fat cats who had lost substantial amounts of weight would have enough loose, baggy skin might have an advantage above certain velocities, where their excess skin would flap about in the wind, helping keep the velocity down. By stretching out their little arms and legs they might even be able to form little parachutes or planes, with which they could glide safely to the ground, much like a flying squirrel. But bigger. And uglyier.
              • Cat Anatomy (Score:3, Interesting)

                by chadjg (615827)
                I've dissected a cat. It was pretty much a standard short haired cat. I think it must have been a stray alley cat, but not one of the bright ones that was smart enough to run like hell when the cat-snatchers came.

                Anyway, Once you see a cat without it's skin, the reason that cats can take falls becomes apparent. the only really massive structure in a cat is the legs/shoulderblade/pectorals structure. The shoulder blades on our cat were huge and had an endless number of muscle attachments. The shoulder blad
      • I'd have to disagree...

        I remember experimenting with my cat growing up to see how short a height it could recover in over a sofa cushion.

        I remember being pretty amazed at how short a distance it could twist around in. I think it was definitely under a foot in height that it could land on its feet in. Anything less it could still manage to land on its side ad least.

        I don't think that a fall of about 8 inches could be considered life threating for a cat.

      • I bring clearly dead cats to the vet. Sorry- digging a grave is whack.
    • by captnjameskirk (599714) on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @01:42PM (#9698647)
      the acceleration due to gravity might result in an unpleasant aftermath

      Actually, it's the deceleration when meeting the ground that is usually the culprit.
      • Acceleration is a vector.

        It can point in whatever direction you like.

        Including the direction opposite velocity.

        There is no such thing as deceleration.

        Stuck on this lift for hours, perforce
        This lift that cost a million bucks
        There's no such thing as centrifugal force
        L-5 Sucks.
  • by kilocomp (234607)
    But their project is about " a robot that uses motions and contortions of its body to orient itself in zero gravity" but they describe it using a situation caused by gravity "If you've ever seen a cat land on its feet after falling while upside down then you've seen the idea behind our project."
    • by hopews (450546)
      When a cat is falling ( or while anything is falling for that matter ) it is in free fall until there is significant drag from its motion through the air. Free fall is effectively a zero gravity state.

      NASA used planes in a dive to simulate zero gravity for astronaught training.
    • So that either means the analogy is false, or their robot will use motions and contortions to orient itself, and then commence spinning and wriggling out of control, since there is no "down" in space.
      • So that either means the analogy is false, or their robot will use motions and contortions to orient itself, and then commence spinning and wriggling out of control, since there is no "down" in space.

        The motions used by a cat to orient itself to land on its feet are completely general and do not depend on the presence of gravity. So the falling cat could orient itself any way it wanted--it just happens to prefer to land on its feet.
    • The article describes how the cat manages to turn by rotating parts of its body without actually pushing against anything, or breaking any laws of physics. I think NASA would be very interested in this because it would mean a robot in a 0-g environment could alter its rotation without having to resort to firing chemical or compressed gas engines. Which is pretty cool. Has anything else like this been attempted?

      I'll admit, though, that my initial thought was that the robot being in a situation where there i
  • by cloudkj (685320) on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @01:26PM (#9698435)
    ...would've been to give the robot 9 lives. If this "cat-like" robot doesnt land perfectly, there goes a few hundred thousand dollars.
  • Just make the feet of the robot really, really heavy. Heavier than the rest of its body, then it will always land on its feet!
  • by foidulus (743482) * on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @01:27PM (#9698446)
    I can just imagine the papers you would have to fill out
    Experiment: "Drop cats repeatedly, observe results for use in robotics..."
    See how well PETA would love that one!
  • Just attach a printed list of all the Internet Explorer security holes in the past few months to any existing robot's feet, and the resulting weight should be enough to reproduce this cat-like ability.
  • by peter303 (12292) on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @01:27PM (#9698457)
    As Ralph Waldo Emerson said "if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door".
  • How cool is that? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by senzafine (630873) on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @01:32PM (#9698525) Homepage
    That sounds like a fun project to work on. I can think of all sorts of uses for something like this. We can ensure that all olympic divers enter the water perfectly perpendicular to the surface. likewise gymnasts doing the vault will always land on their feet. Throwing spirals with a football could be automagic. Ok...nothing lifechanging there...but I'm sure someone will think of something.
  • I wonder... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Unnngh! (731758) on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @01:39PM (#9698608)
    ...if the robot can survive terminal velocity falls [uaf.edu] like cats. Cats falling from very high heights (i.e. skyscrapers) tend to survive the fall better than those falling from lower elevations.
    • Re:I wonder... (Score:2, Insightful)

      by h00dLuM (630451)
      I've seen a few of these postings, and have to say something.

      I'm no scientist, all I know is that my cat fell from my apartment on the 17th floor and was really fucking dead after that. Where she landed there was no big mess, no blood coming out of her mouth, really pretty clean so I guess her landing was perfect. But at that height it didn't matter.

      Obviously my one cat "study" isn't the scientific method, but if your average living mammal falls from 17 floors up, they will mostly fucking die and skys

      • Yeah, a seventeen floor drop will probably kill a cat. However, skyscraper vs high rise doesn't really matter, as the cat is already at terminal velocity. The observation that dead cats don't get taken to the vet to be counted obviously holds true. Nevertheless, a lot of cats -do- survive such falls, which is still remarkable.
    • Cats falling from very high heights (i.e. skyscrapers) tend to survive the fall better than those falling from lower elevations.

      Um- no. Every bone in their body breaks and their internal organs are crushed, just like a human. The "paper" you cite is an absolute crock of shit- they have TWO datapoints, and among other things, the data-fit is so poor it implies 100% survival rates above 8 stories for cats! BullSHIT! Nevermind that they consider "skyscraper" to be "under 7 stories", when most people cons

      • by lommer (566164)
        No actually, the paper he cited is not the only research that has been done on this - I distincly remember reading an article about this 3 or 4 years ago, and a radio program mentioning it a while back too. I didn't read the paper he pointed to, but the reason it works is because not only do the cats orient themselves properly, they also splay out their legs and stretch the skin out, creating a parachute-like effect which drastically reduces their terminal velocity. Cats falling from 5 stories have plenty o
  • Woowee! First we start with Newton's equations and... ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ As to what the hell that had to do with cats, feet, and landing... I'll have HALF of what the original poster took!
  • Legs? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Wizzy Wig (618399)
    Why would a robot (or human for that matter) designed for zero g require feet? Go back to the drawing board... replace those feet with a couple more arms.
    • Like the "Quaddies" in Vorkosigan books Lois McMaster Bujold. Genetically engineered humans with a second set of arms where their legs should be, specially adapted to life in space. Good stories by the way, if you're looking for reading material...
  • by mseeger (40923) on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @01:40PM (#9698626)
    DPA: As professor Fallsonhisface of the chair for human mechanics anounced today, he delivered another breakthrough in robotics. By using a new technology dubbed "artifical clumsiness" he created a robot that appears more humanlike than every other machine today. He stated that "... Most people are scared to death by machines acting perfectly. They will only accept a robot in their daily life if those manage to make mistakes. People want to feel supperior."

    He was confident that the first prototype would convince the public once it has been reassembled again.

    Regards, Martin

  • by Sean80 (567340) on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @01:43PM (#9698656)
    We tend to see a fair number of these postings coming through here. What I'm trying to get my head around is how all of these fit together.

    It would appear that this posting fits in with a robot's ability to manage its own body. I guess other components are intelligence, being able to sense the environment, being self-sufficient, and so forth.

    Does anybody have any good thoughts on how everything is fitting together, and how far we are, in total, from a robot that can be truly useful, say, as a human companion, or for other purposes?

  • Story Musgrave (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ferante (309529) on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @01:53PM (#9698752)
    In grad school one of my physics professors wrote a paper on orienting onself in zero g with no net angular momentum. One student was just convinced it was impossible. Soon thereafter we were visted by Story Musgrave (one of astronauts who fixed Hubble) and the professor told him of the paper. Story immediately sat down on a swivel chair and demonstrated the motion necessary to turn in zero g without grabbing on to anything. It's interesting how a concept that caused some interesting debates among the students suddenly became obvious when it was directly demonstrated.
    • Re:Story Musgrave (Score:3, Informative)

      by roman_mir (125474)
      Sit calmly in a swivel chair, slowly extend your legs, then extend your arms to one side, say to the left, move your arms from that position to the other side of your legs at the same time pull your arms close to your body, at the same time push your pelvis in opposite direction to your arms.
      There you have it, net angular momentum is 0 but you are still rotating.
    • No no no. With the swivel chair, you're using an external force - the friction of the chair. You're able (whether you realise it or not) to push against the chair, using the fact that the bearings aren't completely frictionless. (IIRC, the friction is relatively greater for slow rotation.) That's where you can pick up some angular momentum.

      If the chair rotated completely frictionlessly, then you wouldn't be able to orient yourself; every time you twisted to put one part of your body one way, the rest

  • He has a great contender for "Robot Wars".
  • Zero G? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Shabbs (11692) on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @01:58PM (#9698807)
    Just curious... how does something "fall" in zero g? Doesn't falling imply gravity?

    What would a cat do in Zero G? Would it continously try to adjust itself.

    Now THAT would be funny to see.

    Cats in spce... the next fontier.
    • Just curious... how does something "fall" in zero g? Doesn't falling imply gravity?

      It also implies zero G. Gravity is present everywhere in the universe, so there is no such thing as the absence of gravity. What "zero G" actually means is "moving freely under the influence of gravity."
    • Hmm, all done ->

      Back to the early experiments for a moment of humor. You may have seen a picture from the late 50's, early 60's of a zero G experiment involving a cat floating in air in the cockpit of a fighter aircraft, with the oxygen masked pilot looking on. The one in my science book as a kid showed the cat twisting in mid air, front paws and rear heading in different directions as it tried to cope with simulated Zero G. Looks pretty cool, and I'm sure it made it into more than one textbook deal
    • It would probably become very confused, but I don't think it would constantly spasm in attempts to right itself like you seem to suggest. A cat's reflex is based on acceleration, which would not be happening. It might assume the "skydiver" position that it would at terminal velocity in a normal fall, as other posts have mentioned.
  • by Prince Vegeta SSJ4 (718736) on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @02:00PM (#9698828)

    Like A Cat, New Robot Lands On Its Feet

    Now they will finally be ble to create a perpetual motion machine, which not only works, but is environmentally and feline friendly as well.

    PETA had this to say:

    • the desperately needed, perpetual motion machine can now be achieved, that does not conflict with our interests, The long controversial Buttered Cat array [flippyscatpage.com] is now available without the cats, it is indeed a great day for humanity
  • Excuse me? (Score:2, Redundant)

    by smcn (87571)
    They get one step closer to a humane perpetual motion machine [begent.net] and they're wasting this research on ZERO-G ORIENTATION?
  • by blinder (153117) <blinder...dave@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @02:10PM (#9698955) Homepage Journal
    [voice mode="homestarrunner_1936"]what's a robit?[/voice]
  • Perhaps... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by GersonK (541726)
    ...they should add the technology to this robot [yahoo.com]?
  • RGSFOP (Score:5, Informative)

    by ghack (454608) on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @02:31PM (#9699260)
    As an individual who has participated in the RGSFOP program, I have seen a number of novel experiments, but this particular experiment is a retread that has been done many, many times. Last March, for example, Washington-St. Louis did a very interesting experiment involving zero-gravity orientation of a space vehicle. The typical RGSFOP experiment fails, however, although my University did experience a success this year.

    A list of active RGSFOP teams [nasa.gov]

  • by cardshark2001 (444650) on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @02:48PM (#9699454)
    Have you ever seen a cat not land on its feet?

    I've seen it. I might have had a little something to do with it. They sure are twisty little b@574d5, I'll tell you that.

  • Not so much a formal study but a fun paper to read: On the Directional Correlation of Axial Rotation in Inverted Felines and Planetary Spin: Coriolis Revisited [psu.edu]

    The author [baylor.edu] also happens to be a Computer Science professor in data networks. Quite a dry sense of humor -- his classes are a lot of fun!

    Mandatory Disclaimer : yes, I'm a starving grad student of his, and yes, I'm pulling for a graduation date this decade!
  • It's funny how far a cat can fall [rottentomatoes.com]
  • ...to save an expensive falling thingie, then we'll have to wait for someone to invent a freaking parachute then, won't we?
  • Already in use (Score:2, Informative)

    by cjameshuff (624879)
    As far as I can tell, this is basically an overly complex version of a momentum wheel...basically, a massive, low-speed flywheel. Spin it one way, the surrounding structure spins the opposite direction...stop the momentum wheel, and the entire structure stops spinning. That is, angular momentum for the entire structure is conserved.

    The Hubble telescope uses momentum wheels for very precise aiming without requiring propellant and complex, failure-prone, and mirror-dirtying thrusters. These people are trying

A penny saved is a penny to squander. -- Ambrose Bierce

Working...