This "creeping robot" was, as its creators wrote, "inspired by the locomotion characteristics of the desert lizard."

Reptilia Robotica

Move over, Mars rover — a new reptilian robot may one day crawl the Red Planet's barren surface instead, all in the name of exploration.

Researchers at China's Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics have unveiled a prototype for their diminutive robot that was, as the scientists acknowledged in their recent paper published in MDPI's Biometrics journal, directly inspired by lizards.

"Due to the fact that the surface [of Mars] is composed of granular soils and rocks of various sizes, contemporary rovers can have difficulties in moving on soft soils and climbing over rocks," the Nanjing robotics researchers wrote. "To overcome such difficulties, this research develops a quadruped creeping robot inspired by the locomotion characteristics of the desert lizard."

Testing, Testing

In their paper, the roboticists revealed how our four-legged reptilian friend inspired the design, from a flexible spine appendage to assist it with the fluidity of motion, to the four separate "toes" on each of its four feet.

"The leg structure utilizes a four-linkage mechanism, which ensures a steady lifting motion," the Nanjing team wrote. "The foot consists of an active ankle and a round pad with four flexible toes that are effective in grasping soils and rocks."

To see how well this cute little robot would fare on the dusty, irradiated surface of Mars, its creators first ran a number of simulations of various Martian scenarios it may encounter.

The team 3D printed their prototype and put it to work on a "testbed" built to resemble the surface of our closest planetary neighbor.

Results from both sets of tests, the researchers noted, were promising: their robot seemed to be up to the challenges presented by Mars' inhospitable surface, crossing their testbed with ease.

Looking forward, the researchers wrote that they're pursuing new machine-learning models that could help this little guy "self-adapt" to the Martian terrain. They're also investigating ways to help it keep its battery charged when it's off-world.

It'll most certainly be years before a funky little robot like this lizard makes landfall on Mars — but in the meantime, it's always fun to imagine it scuttling around on the Red Planet.

More on Mars: Suggestion: NASA Should Make Its Mars Helicopter Do Some Gnarly Tricks From "Tony Hawk"

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