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IDF Envisions Army of Animal Robots

IDF Envisions Army of Animal Robots

November 24, 2008

Robotics & High-Tech

A cat-bot that climbs the walls using its claws, a dog-droid that responds to human movements, and a robot which releases glue through its wheels while scaling buildings met Wednesday in Herzliya. This might sound like the beginning of a joke or a description of the scene of a science fiction movie like Star Wars. In reality though, this was the scene at a robot exhibition held on Wednesday at a conference in the central coastal town.

The wall-scaling robot may look like a small mechanical toy, but in practice it is quite a sophisticated device: it is capable of crawling up vertical walls, can turn corners without falling, and successfully navigate through obstacles without difficulty.

The robot is the offspring of a family of robots which were developed by researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev — a project which was launched following the abortive 1994 operation to rescue abducted soldier Nachshon Wachsman. Wachsman and an officer from the elite reconnaissance Sayeret Matkal unit, Captain Nir Poraz, were killed in the operation.

“They held Nachshon Wachsman on the second floor of the building, but the forces on the ground who carried out the rescue did not know that,” Dr. Amir Shapiro of Ben-Gurion University said. “After the operation, the army came to us and requested that we build something that would allow it to ‘peek’ inside the second floor, so we looked for a robot that could stick to the wall.”

Shapiro said there were a number of ways to create a robot that could do this, and his team of researchers explored each possibility: the robot could adhere to the wall through the use of glue, a vacuum, magnets, or claws.

“The robot with claws climbs the wall like a cat climbs a rough-textured wall,” Shapiro said. “Another robot has wheels with glue and it can move on completely smooth surfaces, even glass.”

Aside from military observation missions, the wall-climbing robots could be used in the future for planting antennas as well as for cleaning windows. Ben-Gurion researchers have also developed “robot snakes” capable of slithering on the floor and passing through pipes and narrow openings.

Another robot is being planned to spray grapevines. It would identify the grapes through the use of a camera and spray them selectively — thus helping to prevent unnecessary damage to the environment.