Reptile Robots Spy on Wild Animals in Africa

EPFL scientists built a robot crocodile and lizard to get up close and personal with wild animals in Africa. The robots are featured in an episode of the BBC's "Spy in the Wild."

Scientists at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) Biorob Lab have built a robot crocodile and lizard to get up close and personal with wild animals in Africa.

The robots are featured in an episode of the BBC’s “Spy in the Wild.” Watch a trailer for the show below.

The idea is to use biology to build better robots and then use the robots to study biology. The robots are equipped with cameras instead of eyes, observing and filming the behavior of real-life creatures in the wild.

The robot crocodile (K-Rock) and robot monitor lizard were designed after hours of studying the real-life creatures and imitate the walking movement of these creatures. This involved imitating joints with motors, bones with aluminium and carbon fiber, and skin with a waterproof suit made out of latex. A mini-computer, wired to the 24 motors needed to make the reptiles move, could be remote-controlled as far as 500 meters away.

“What we like to do is bioinform,” says Biorob Lab’s Kamilo Melo. “Basically we take info from biology to inform the design of the robots. We extract all the information, we make experiments, and we make measurements of biology, to then bring all this data into the design of the robots. With this we can also study the locomotion of the real animals.”

The robots spent two weeks by the Nile river in Uganda searching out their real-life counterparts by walking on the banks and swimming in the river.

“We encourage roboticists to take their robots out of the lab,” says EPFL scientist Tomislav Horvat, who worked alongside Melo throughout the reptilian adventure. “This will make them learn things that are hard to see in controlled environments and that will greatly improve their designs and software.”

Crocodile Robot
Photo Credit: EPFL

The reptilian robots serve a valuable role for another line of research of the Biorob lab: search and rescue. Robots may one day be deployed in emergency situations, like after an earthquake, in order to locate and possibly even rescue victims.


About the Author

Steve Crowe · Steve Crowe is managing editor of Robotics Trends. Steve has been writing about technology since 2008. He lives in Belchertown, MA with his wife and daughter.
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