In order to better understand cats, researchers at the University of Electro-Communications, Tokyo, Japan built robot cat legs. The result of their labors is documented in this video, which shows the terrifying prospect of disembodied feline legs rendered in metal, leaping to 1.3 times their own height.
The trouble with mimicking animal motion is that the whole body contributes to movement, not just the muscles and linkages of the limbs themselves. This makes decoding the movement difficult. “Abilities such as tree climbing, soft landing and high speed locomotion are some of their feats which baffle biologists and robotic researchers,” say the paper’s authors, Andre Rosendo, Kenichi Narioka, and Koh Hosoda. “For more than 100 years, researchers have been trying to pinpoint the secret for such intriguing proficiency, but due to highly complex and redundant muscular structures, this biological conundrum, so far, have not been fully explained or mimicked.”
Their answer was to build legs that are more biologically faithful than other robots. This was done by making an copy of the leg, and then tweaking it, and tinkering while observing until it the leg’s performance matched that of the original. Thus could nature’s mechanisms be better understood. And it seems to have worked. Check the section of the video where the robot lands on an obstacle, as sure-footed as any feline.
Of course, what the researchers failed to realize is the danger inherent in marrying our most malevolent house pets with the never-tiring, relentless march of a machine. If a cat brain was ever transferred into a cat robot, it would be game over for humanity, with only a few of use kept alive as slaves, used only to make balls of wool, and deliver on-demand ear scratches.