Feb. 10 - As anyone who's ever owned a remote-controlled toy car knows, you can drive them only so fast before they topple over while cornering. But for toys, and more sophisticated driving robots, a young South African inventor has come up with an innovative stabilizing technique, modeled on the biomechanics of the cheetah. Rob Muir reports.
It looks like a sophisticated toy car, but it's been designed to prove an engineering principle - tat the addition of a tail that moves to counteract torque, can keep a vehicle with a high centre of gravity stable in high speed turns. As opposed to what happens when the tail is removed. The actuated tail has been developed at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. It's modelled on the tail of a cheetah. At high speed, the cheetah uses its tail for stability. While twisting, turning, and braking the tail continually counteracts the torque that would otherwise cause the animal to fall over. Designer Amir Patel, thought that scienitific principle could be applied to a vehicle attempting a similar high speed manoeuvre. (SOUNDBITE) AMIR PATEL, ROBOT TAIL DESIGNER, SAYING: "To investigate the effect that a swinging tail during a turn has you will see that there is a re-active torque on the rigid body which would counter that toppling moment and thus keep the body in a straight line". And the science has a serious purpose. Patel says it could applied in motor sports to provide greater stability in racing cars, or in life and death situations where time is of the essence. (SOUNDBITE) AMIR PATEL, ROBOT TAIL DESIGNER, SAYING: " We hope to use this application in high speed search and rescue applications so where a robot needs to enter a time critical situation and needs to manoeuvre we can use the tail to perform these rapid manoeuvres." And Patel believes the cheetah has more to offer the science of robotics. He wants to know how and why the animal performs certain manouvres in certain situations, and apply that knowledge to robots of the future.