The US military is continuing its research into robotic enhancements for its soldiers. After years of exo-suits and jet pack research, the armed forces are looking into replicating the biomechanical strengths of leaping squirrels.
Announced by the US Army, new research is being done on replicating the movement of squirrels in robotics. Partnering with researchers at the University of California, the US military hopes to learn from squirrels for its technological future.
The US military wants squirrelbots
In its announcement, the military explains that it wants to learn more about squirrels to improve robotic agility. The animal’s ability to “move through varied landscapes” is said to be key to improving troop effectiveness.
Improved robotic agility would help the troops in certain mission environments. For example, it would help “traveling through the rubble of a collapsed building to aid in search and rescue”. Additionally, it can be used to “quickly access an environmental threat”.
Program manager for Complex Dynamics and Systems at the U.S. Army, Dean Culver, said:
“Studying organisms’ behavior, like jumping squirrels, lets the engineering community ask fascinating questions about an autonomous agent trying to navigate an uncertain environment. For example, what stimuli cause learning? How does the interplay between structural compliance in a limb and surprises in an environment permit adjustments during a maneuver?”
The research compliments their “Star Wars” like robot
The US military explains that this squirrel research will help to improve an already existing bit of military kit: Salto. Designed similarly to Star Wars’ AT-STs. Salto is the highest-jumping robot in the world. However, it's currently very small.
At the time of writing, Salto is able to jump high and off objects such as walls. With the addition of squirrel-like body tilting, reorientation mid-air would result in far better performance. The next step: making the robot big enough to make a difference.
Of course, any military research comes with ethical worries. The military is already investing in worrisome research such as anti-aging pills and AI event prediction. Sure, squirrel-inspired robots sound harmless. However, if they were, the military wouldn't be interested in them.