Tomofumi Hatakeyama and Hiromi Mochiyama have not yet created a robotic chameleon like the (completely fake) one in the above pic, but they have started in on one of the most important parts: the tongue. Chameleons can shoot their tongues out to capture prey in just three one-hundredths of a second, and then reel their tongues back in and chow down. Seems like a handy thing for a robot to be able to do, right? Sure, why the heck not!
This system is deceptively simple, relying on an air cannon of sorts to fire a magnetic projectile attached to a thin elastic cord. Over 90 percent of the time, the robotic tongue can snap up magnets dropped 0.7 meter away, taking barely a tenth of a second to traverse the distance, and making the entire round trip in another tenth. It's wicked quick, and can nail almost exactly the same spot in mid-air every time.
Obviously, there are a few reasons why this particular version is probably not going to replace a real chameleon any time soon. For one, it only works on magnetic stuff, and in order to make the catch, it needs a break-beam sensor to tell it when to fire. But there are ways to get around both of these issues, like maybe some gecko-foot tape plus a laser sensor system or something. The researchers want this thing to ultimately shoot out to 10 meters (!), and they're planning to mount it on some kind of mobile robot platform that will scuttle around and catch cockroaches and other bugs. You know, humanely.
"Shooting Manipulation System with High Reaching Accuracy" was presented by Tomofumi Hatakeyama and Hiromi Mochiyama from the University of Tsukuba at the IEEE International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in San Francisco last week.
Image: Robot chameleon rendering via Tommix on deviantART