2014 Spring: Rolling, Slipping, Skipping, Hopping: Investigating the dynamics of minimal animal locomotion
The goal of this experimental study is to investigate optimal terrestrial locomotion with minimal designs. 
Following the footsteps of Galileo Galilei, who investigated the rolling motion of spheres down an incline 
(1638), you will study the optimal passive motion of solid objects moving down a slope of constant 
inclination, under the influence of gravity. The following problem will be considered: given a fixed 
volume (or mass) of a given material, is there an optimal design or geometrical distribution of the 
material allowing the object to descent down the slope at a maximum speed. For instance, can an 
ellipsoid descend faster than a sphere? 
The existence of possible transitions between different gaits (from rolling to slipping to skipping to 
hopping) is of particular interest. For this project, you will need to design and build the experimental set 
up, determine and characterize a simple design space for the falling objects as well as collect and 
analyze experimental data. High-speed imaging is available to investigate how the dynamics and motion 
gait depend on the geometry of the object and the inclination of the slope. 


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