This robot salamander can swim and crawl, just like a real amphibian

Could the discoveries made from building a 3D-printed, waterproof salamander robot one day help people with severe spinal injuries to walk again?

No, this isn’t some The Men Who Stare At Goats-level insanity; it’s the groundbreaking work of robotics researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland. They’ve designed and built a 3D-printed “robomander” capable of both swimming and crawling — and perhaps one day saving lives, too.

“The salamander is an interesting animal from an evolutionary point of view,” Professor Auke Ijspeert, head of the institute’s Biorobotics Laboratory, told Digital Trends. “It can swim and walk, so understanding how it manages these transitions can tell us a lot — not only from a biological perspective, but also from a robotics one.”

The robot — dubbed “Pleurobot” — features 27 motors and 11 spinal segments, making it significantly simpler than its real-life amphibian inspiration. Deciding which parts of a real salamander to replicate was achieved by using an X-ray video machine to record the creature’s bone movements during locomotion and then working out the fewest number of component motorized parts needed to accurately replicate all of its gaits.

Ijspeert says one possible use of a (presumably larger) Pleurobot would be as an all-purpose rescue robot, since its ability to deal with a variety of terrains would make it stand out from the pack.

Longer term, however, he thinks it could have even broader applications.

“It’s not going to be immediate, but this work gets us closer to understanding how the human spinal cord functions,” Ijspeert explains. “The spinal cord is the body’s main locomotion computer, but much too little is understood about it. We know far less about the spinal cord than, for example, the motor cortex, the visual cortex, or other higher brain areas. This is because recording neural activity in the spinal cord is very difficult, particularly during movement. A big hope of our work would be to find out more about how the brain communicates with the spinal cord to initiate and modulate locomotion. I think this could have massive implications for neuroprosthetics. That’s ultimately what we’re aiming for.”


4 women innovators who are using tech to help others live better lives

Meet four women leaders who are not only at the forefront of technology today, but also using tech — from robotics and medicine to food and undergarments — to help others.
Emerging Tech

Body surrogate robot helps people with motor impairments care for themselves

A team from Georgia Tech has come up with an assistant robot to help people who have severe motor impairments to perform tasks like shaving, brushing their hair, or drinking water.
Emerging Tech

This very talented robotic leg learned to walk all by itself

Researchers at the University of Southern California have developed a robotic limb capable of walking without preprogrammed knowledge of the task. It’s an impressive feat that could help future robots navigate the world independently.

Sony could use a robot to turn your PlayStation into a fitness machine

Sony submitted a patent application for a robotic device equipped with a camera to assist in your workout. The images included suggest that the device will work with your PlayStation console.
Emerging Tech

A.I.-generated text is supercharging fake news. This is how we fight back

A new A.I. tool is reportedly able to spot passages of text written by algorithm. Here's why similar systems might prove essential in a world of fake news created by smart machines.
Emerging Tech

Racing to catch a flight? Robot valet at French airport will park your car

Hate searching for parking at the airport when you need to catch a plane? Startup Stanley Robotics recently unveiled a new outdoor automated robotic valet system. Here's how it works.

At $99, Nvidia’s Jetson Nano minicomputer seeks to bring robotics to the masses

Nvidia announced a new A.I. computer, the Jetson Nano. This computer comes with an 128-core GPU that Nvidia claims can handle pretty much any A.I. framework you could imagine. At $99, it's an affordable way for A.I. newbies to get involved.

Bags with brains: Smart luggage and gadgets are making travel smoother

The bag you use to tote your stuff can affect the experience of any trip. In response, suitcases are wising up, and there are now options for smart luggage with scales, tracking, and more. Here are our favorite pieces.

Nvidia’s A.I. Playground lets you edit photos, experience deep learning research

Nvidia is making it easier to access information on deep learning research. It has launched an online space with three demos for image editing, styling, as well as photorealistic image synthesis. 

British Airways’ new Club Suite for business class comes with a door

British Airways is going after a bigger slice of the business class market with the imminent launch of the Club Suite. The plush seating option offers a more private space as well as an easier route to the bathroom.
Smart Home

Sony’s Aibo robot dog can now patrol your home for persons of interest

Sony released the all-new Aibo in the U.S. around nine months ago, and since then the robot dog has (hopefully) been melting owners' hearts with its cute looks and clever tricks. Now it has a new one up its sleeve.
Emerging Tech

Inflating smart pills could be a painless alternative to injections

Could an inflating pill containing hidden microneedles replace painful injections? The creators of the RaniPill robotic capsule think so — and they have the human trials to prove it.
Emerging Tech

The U.S. Army is building a giant VR battlefield to train soldiers virtually

Imagine if the U.S. Army was able to rehearse battlezone scenarios dozens, or even hundreds, or times before settling foot on actual terrain. Thanks to virtual reality, that's now a possibility.
Emerging Tech

A silver bullet is being aimed at the drug-resistant superbugs on the ISS

A bacteria which is benign here on Earth can mutate into a drug-resistant superbug once it enters space. Now this problem is being tackled by a team of microbiologists who have found a way to inhibit the spread of bacteria in the ISS.