The German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (also known as DFKI) has developed a robotic model for lunar exploration that is based on, of all things, a chimpanzee.
The iStruct Demonstrator is DFKI's attempt at creating a roboticized chimp that could help us explore the moon.
Why did DFKI make a robot chimpanzee? "We chose the ape because it allows us to study several locomotion modes," DFKI researcher Daniel Kuhn told CNN. "For example, they have quite good quadrupedal walking abilities but they can also perform stand- up motion and walk on two legs -- their ability to do this is greater than other animals. This change in posture and walking form interested us."
The ability to switch between quadripedal and bipedal travel would allow the iStruct Demonstrator to traverse a number of terrain types, from mountains to deserts, and even unstable terrain.. The robot would also be able to use those limbs to "perceive" and react to an environment. "The robotic chimpanzee focuses on a sophisticated lower limb system that combines the torque and twist of the chimpanzee's lower body. And, like a real chimp, the robot's feet and hands have multiple sensors and multiple points of contact" reports CNN.
The robot also has another unique feature: the first man-made actuated spine. ".....For us it was very interesting how the spine influences the motion of the legs," Kuhn told CNN. "We need much less activation for the knee -- the knee can be much lower if we use the spine and it needs less force to move the robot." This spine provides enough support for the robot to "carry itself" as well as an additional 25 kg.
The iStruct is still in the early stages of prototype development, and won't enter the field for a while. But if the robot is developed correctly, it could offer us a new way to explore unknown worlds.