Convergent evolution and locomotion through complex terrain by insects, vertebrates and robots

Arthropod Struct Dev. 2004 Jul;33(3):361-79. doi: 10.1016/j.asd.2004.05.001.


Arthropods are the most successful members of the animal kingdom largely because of their ability to move efficiently through a range of environments. Their agility has not been lost on engineers seeking to design agile legged robots. However, one cannot simply copy mechanical and neural control systems from insects into robotic designs. Rather one has to select the properties that are critical for specific behaviors that the engineer wants to capture in a particular robot. Convergent evolution provides an important clue to the properties of legged locomotion that are critical for success. Arthropods and vertebrates evolved legged locomotion independently. Nevertheless, many neural control properties and mechanical schemes are remarkably similar. Here we describe three aspects of legged locomotion that are found in both insects and vertebrates and that provide enhancements to legged robots. They are leg specialization, body flexion and the development of a complex head structure. Although these properties are commonly seen in legged animals, most robotic vehicles have similar legs throughout, rigid bodies and rudimentary sensors on what would be considered the head region. We describe these convergent properties in the context of robots that we developed to capture the agility of insects in moving through complex terrain.