Why the U.S. Army is considering walking vehicles:
New U.S. Army research suggests that legs could compete with wheels and tracks, leading to a whole new range of unmanned vehicles and combat robots.
, plotting total power output of the engine to maximum speed. Various animals, including spiders, crabs, penguins, humans, horses and others, were plotted on the same graph, and generally speaking, all followed the same pattern up to about 300 horsepower (200 kilowatts), the scale of heavy trucks or tanks. (The study found that above 35 tons, new rules are needed).
“We see a strong similarity between biological and artificial systems …organisms and artificial systems agree closely with the Heglund formula,” the researchers conclude.This suggests that optimally designed – or evolved – walkers can match wheels or tracks. And of course legs do have advantages when crossing obstacles or steep slopes. And while most legged machines are highly inefficient, a few of the more advanced designs such as
MIT’s Cheetah robotare comparable to wheels for efficiency. With the development of better materials which mimic the store-and-release cycle of animals, walker might start to catch up soon.“With the improvements with batteries or energy source density, as well as investigation into the increased efficiency through the use of optimized leg design and inclusion of passive spring elements in legs as well as spine, I believe the efficiency gap between mechanical and biological can be improved.” says Jason Pusey, a mechanical engineer on the ARL team. Pusey refers to the dramatic improvements in efficiency in cars in the last few years as an example of how designs can be optimized. headtopics.com
A few years ago, electric cars were impractical. With better batteries and motors, they are increasingly competitive. Legged walkers could go down the same road.Though popular with YouTube viewers, BigDog did not meet the requirements for a military load
... [+]carrier -- but more efficient quadruped robots might do the job.Boston Globe via Getty ImagesThe paper describes a hypothetical new robot, the Exploratory Design for Mule-like Equipment Carrier, or EDMEC. This is a quadruped cargo carrier to carry food, ammunition and other equipment for an infantry unit. EDMDEC would move at up to 4.5 mph, slow by the standards of wheeled vehicles but enough to keep up with troops on foot, and able to negotiate forests, rocky terrain and steep mountain trails which are tricky for wheels or tracks. It could succeed where BigDog failed.
While EDMEC is just a paper design with no hardware, it is an indication of the art of the possible. It is also a highly relevant mission. The US Army is currently considering designs for aSquad Multipurpose Equipment Transport(SMET), a small robotic cargo carrier due to be in service by 2025. This will follow troops much like the proposed robot mule; current contenders run on wheels or tracks, but as legs become more efficient, their agility may help them win in the long run.
What about those walking tanks though? The formula applies up to 35 tons, so perhaps mighty cannon-toting machines could be feasible?“I doubt practicality of large legged machines, except in highly specialized contexts,” says Kott. “Scaling in size and mass brings serious issues of stresses in the elements of the legged machine. This, however, might change somewhat as new materials are developed.” headtopics.com
So those walking tanks are not Read more: Forbes »
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