The speed and ease with which squirrels move through the challenging and unpredictable environment of the canopy is “amazing,” says biomechanics researcher Robert Foll of the University of California, Berkeley. Animals, it seems, without much effort, jump several times as long as their body, and yet land safely on swaying branches. How they do it, no one can say exactly, explains in full: “How do you really know that your body is capable of such leaps?”
Controlling the bodies of small furry animals is not only amazing to look at, but also revealing – from a purely academic point of view, and, for example, to builders of robots. Perhaps some aspects of squirrels’ intelligent robot design could be copied, such as the advantages of a flexible spine or grasping paws with sharp claws for skilful landings.
For their daring feats, squirrels also use anything that sits between their brush ears. “You have a very good memory,” says Gregory Burns, who studies biomechanics at Siena College in Loudonville, New York. It is possible that a squirrel you see rushing through the park is following a path it has already taken and memorized on a mind map. It is famous for the ability of hard-working rodents, when the cold winter comes, to remember the location of the many nut stores they stashed on their lands. This type of storage sets them apart from other tree dwellers, like many primates, says Nathaniel Hunt, who studies biomechanics at the University of Nebraska in Omaha. He says the same combination of learning ability and responsive agility would look good on any robot.
“Alcohol buff. Troublemaker. Introvert. Student. Social media lover. Web ninja. Bacon fan. Reader.”