What Is Terradynamics and Why Do We Need It?

As animals and robots move in the real world, they must physically interact with the surrounding terrain with complexity that rivals that with fluids during flight and swimming. Analogous to aero- and hydrodynamics, to better understand biological movement and advance robotic mobility, we must create terradynamics.

How Do We Create Terradynamics?

As is the case with aero- and hydrodynamics, the creation of terradynamics requires integration of knowledge and tools of biology, engineering, and physics. Through this powerful integrative approach, we have so far created the first terradynamics for flowable ground and begun expanding terradynamics to 3-D, multi-component terrain.


Watch video to learn more.


Recent & Ongoing Research

Terradynamics for 3-D, Multi-Component Terrain

Natural and artificial terrain like forest floor and building rubble are filled with multiple three-dimensional obstacles and challenge small animals and robots alike. Learn more below about how we create a terrain model, grass-like beams, and integrate biology and robotics studies to understand the diverse biological movement, discover a new concept of terradynamic streamlining, and enhance robot's ability to traverse such 3-D, multi-component terrain.

Large gap traversal – First dynamic template for locomotion in 3-D terrain

We discovered that rapidly running animals and robots use high approach speed and a pitched up body posture to facilitate traversal of a large gap obstacle. From this discovery, we used a simple active tail mechanism to pitch our robot that increased gap traversal performance by 50%. In contrast to slow precisely planned maneuvers, these dynamic strategies allow an animal or robot to traverse a gap larger than its body length.

Large bump traversal – Locomotion energy landscape reveals mechanical principles

Animals and robots often move much faster than their ability to sense and react to obstacles in the environment and often collide with them. Here we found that upon collision with a bump, body orientation affects whether the animal or robot traverse the bump or was deflected. Animals and robots with a pitched up body that collided head-on were more likely to traverse than be deflected. From these principles, we applied an active body pitching control strategy to our robot that increased traversable bump height by 75%.

Control & Variation of Beam Obstacles

Analogous to wind tunnel and flow channel for studying movement in fluids, we create a new device that mimic grass-like beam obstacles and allow precise control and systematic variation of beam parameters, and enable precise and repeatable experiments.

Biology & Robotics - Diverse Locomotor Pathways

In contrast to single-mode, stereotyped locomotion on flat, solid ground in most locomotion studies, we discover that in 3-D, multi-component terrain, animals transition among multiple locomotor modes, forming diverse locomotor pathways. This not only provides a more accurate representation of locomotion in nature, but is also what mobile robots must advance towards.

Biology & Robotics - Terradynamic Streamlining

Analogous to streamlined body shapes that reduce drag and enhance movement in fluids, in our biology studies we discover terradynamically streamlined body shapes that enhance movement in 3-D, multi-component terrain. This new concept has enabled our robot to traverse densely cluttered obstacles simply via mechanics, without sensing, computation, or additional control.