I Robot, I Climb

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Engineers at Stanford University and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have developed a spiderlike robot that can ascend an artificial climbing wall. The four-legged robot operates independently of its controller and makes moves eerily like a human climber -- drop-knees and toe-hooks — as well as some moves humans probably wish they could make. An onboard computer continuously adjusts each limb to provide the ideal balance for the machine. The robot, dubbed Lemur IIb, might eventually be developed for new methods of planetary exploration, such as accessing cliffside geologic sites on Mars. For now, a model of the climbing wall, with coordinates of the footholds, must be fed into Lemur IIb’s computer. But scientists hope future robots will be able to study a cliff face, identify the holds, and plan their own routes. See http://sun-valley.stanford.edu/~tbretl/ for a striking video of the robot in action (6 mb), and read more about the robot at http://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99995090.