There has been a great deal of interest in recent years in what has been termed biomimetic robotics, the design and
construction of robots that incorporate some of the physical or functional features of walking animals. The basis of
the interest is the observation that most animals with legs can move about more quickly and with significantly greater a
gility over irregular terrain than can any legged robot yet devised. The hope is that by implementing in robots some of
the principles neurobiologists have identified in the control of animal walking, considerable improvements can be made in
the performance of walking robots.
Neurobiologists also have something to gain from a study of the walking of legged robots. Such study can provide
information of interest to neurobiologists in two ways. First, the nature of the problems that arise in constructing
a robot and developing a robust locomotion controller can illuminate the neurobiological problems faced by animals, such
as the need to stiffen a joint before ground contact. Second, a walking robot can be used to address important questions
in motor control. For example, a major issue in neurobiology is how the nervous system selects, times, and coordinates
muscle action. Hypotheses about how this is achieved in the nervous system can be screened by implementing them on a
physical robot and seeing whether the hypothesized control system can generated coordinated walking. Robots can also
be used to address the question of what role the nature of the physical plant of an animal (i.e., its physical structure)
plays in the control of locomotion.
With support from the National Science Foundation, the hexapod robot project at the University of Illinois began in
1994 as a collaborative project between FD, Narendra Ahuja,
and Mark Nelson.
Jan Cocatre-Zilgien and
John Hart gave considerable assistance in the early years.
The group, shown in the Personnel section of this site, successfully
built a walking six-legged robot.
More detailed information and photos are on the following page.