A robotic rat has been created by scientists in China and they believe it could be used in disasters.
The small, highly manoeuvrable robot is capable of navigating small spaces and obstacles, climbing steep slopes, and even walking on snow. This makes it an ideal candidate for delivering potentially life-saving aid where humans are otherwise unable to.
The research team, a collaboration of engineers from the Beijing Institute of Technology and Tsinghua University, published their peer-reviewed results in the scientific journal, IEEE Robotics and Transactions in April.
Prototypes of the rat go back to 2019, with ongoing developments since then, according to lead author Shi Qing. Currently acting as vice director of the Intelligent Robotics Institute at Beijing’s Institute of Technology, Shi told Chinese media that he believes his creation could reach the market as soon as 2025.
Measuring only 19 centimetres long and weighing about 220 grams, the rodent droid is roughly the size and weight of a living Norwegian rat and is controlled through WiFi, using a computer, tablet or phone.
The diminutive robot is powered by a battery pack that takes only half an hour to charge and moves at a brisk 15 centimetres per second. Importantly, the rat can carry payloads of supplies, medicine and sensory equipment weighing as much as 200 grams.
The robotic rat can explore and investigate earthquake ruins or the sites of collapsed buildings that are constricted or dangerous for human responders, according to Shi.
It is also well-suited to negotiating the complex network of pipelines that smart cities often have. Larger inspection robots can also deliver their smaller counterparts directly to the scene where they can get to work faster.
The research team designed and fabricated their robot to mimic actual rodent mechanics. To do this, they studied X-rays of rat skeleton structures and 3D-printed constituent parts. The entire creation process takes about a week to complete.
The rat can stand in a crouched position but also squat low to the floor when the ceiling height is minimised. Not limited to vertical and horizontal movement, the rat contorts its robotic spine to turn with a small radius and also correct itself after falling over.
The make-up of the robot’s exoskeleton is also covered in the research paper. Shi and his colleagues opted for a photosensitive resin for the head and abdomen while the legs are constructed from a more rigid nylon compound.
Even the tail is motion-capable. The rubber stand-in can move up and down, acting as a sort of counterbalance for the machine.
The study is not complete yet, however. The scientists involved say they are looking to make improvements to the rat’s agility, waterproofing their creation and equipping the potentially life-saving rodent with more advanced sensory instruments.