Squirrels are parkour masters, running on walls, leaping onto bendy branches, and recovering gracefully from missed landings. UC Berkeley researchers studied squirrels on campus to understand the fantastic biomechanics behind their balance and agility. Eventually, these insights could inform the development of new mobile robots, says UC Berkeley integrative biologist Robert Full whose laboratory has previously demonstrated robot designs inspired by geckos, cockroaches, and other animals. Not only are the robot designs innovative, but they also help the scientists better understand the animals' locomotion. From Berkeley News:
"As a model organism to understand the biological limits of balance and agility, I would argue that squirrels are second to none," [Full's collaborator Nathaniel] Hunt said. "If we try to understand how squirrels do this, then we may discover general principles of high performance locomotion in the canopy and other complex terrains that apply to the movements of other animals and robots."
The experiments were conducted in a eucalyptus grove on the UC Berkeley campus, where Hunt enticed fox squirrels that roam the campus into sketchy situations where they had to decide whether to leap for a peanut or let it go[…]
One unsuspected innovation was that during tricky jumps, squirrels would often reorient their bodies to push off a vertical surface, like in human parkour, to adjust their speed and insure a better landing.