How did quadrupeds walk 290 million years ago?
(this article is first posted in the fruit shell net)
how to understand the movement posture of an animal? Scientists can take them into the lab, let them walk on a treadmill, and then observe them directly.
what about paleontology that lived hundreds of millions of years ago and has only fossils left? In the face of a motionless skeleton, how do we know whether it is alive with its belly to the ground, or with its limbs to support the body, and how to know how its limbs swing?
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this time, let the replica robot run the treadmill for it:
this skeletal robot animal named OroBOT, its prototype Orobates pabsti lived in the early Permian (about 290 million years ago), when vertebrates had not been on land for long. Controlled by 28 motors, OroBOT stretched his limbs, twisted his spine and walked on the treadmill in different postures, helping researchers speculate on the most likely walking posture of this early land animal, thus learning more about the evolution of terrestrial quadrupeds.
(Orobates pabsti fossils, photo source: Thomas Martens)
Orobates pabsti is not only early enough to have complete bone fossils, but also corresponding footprint fossils to refer to, so it is chosen as the object of study. The researchers scanned the fossils and created a three-dimensional model of the whole body skeleton. At the same time, they also observed the walking posture of several living animals as a reference. How do you observe it? They are still asked to get on the treadmill, and this time x-ray is also needed to get a clear view of the bones in motion.
(a salamander walking on a treadmill provides reference data for this study. Video source: biorob2.epfl.ch)
after collecting the reference data, it's time to test various walking postures. Many of these tests are carried out through computer simulations, but actually getting the robot to take two steps is still very important: this can help researchers better verify the simulation results and better understand the energy consumption and balance of various walking postures.
after testing hundreds of parameter combinations, the researchers believe that the prehistoric quadruped's way of walking is more "advanced" than expected: they are already able to support their bodies on their limbs. and the balance and energy efficiency of walking is also good. In other words, prehistoric quadrupeds may have mastered efficient ways of walking earlier than scientists expected.
if you want to feel the Orobates pabsti walking in different positions You can also visit the website established by the researchers: https://biorob2.epfl.ch/Orobates_interactive/
original paper: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-018-0851-2
related report: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/science/300-million-years-ago-our-ancestors-walked-tall-this-robot-shows-you-how