Terradynamics: New Technique Could Predict How Legged Robots Will Move on Sand

Posted on March 25, 2013

Using a combination of theory and experiment, researchers have developed a new approach for understanding and predicting how small legged robots – and potentially also animals – move on and interact with complex granular materials such as sand.

Georgia Tech professor Daniel Goldman and postdoctoral fellow Chen Li watch a robot traverse a track bed of poppy seeds as part of a study into how animals and robots move on granular surfaces. (Georgia Tech Photo: Gary Meek)

Georgia Tech professor Daniel Goldman and postdoctoral fellow Chen Li watch a robot traverse a track bed of poppy seeds as part of a study into how animals and robots move on granular surfaces. (Georgia Tech Photo: Gary Meek)

The research could help create and advance the field of “terradynamics” – a name the researchers have given to the science of legged animals and vehicles moving on granular and other complex surfaces. Providing equations to describe and predict this type of movement – comparable to what has been done to predict the motion of animals and vehicles through the air or water – could allow designers to optimize legged robots operating in complex environments for search-and-rescue missions, space exploration or other tasks.

“We now have the tools to understand the movement of legged vehicles over loose sand in the same way that scientists and engineers have had tools to understand aerodynamics and hydrodynamics,” said Daniel Goldman, a professor in the School of Physics at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “We are at the beginning of tools that will allow us to do the design and simulation of legged robots to not only predict their performance, but also to optimize designs and allow us to create new concepts.”

Read more at: GeorgiaTech