SCIENCE
06/27/2013 03:39 pm ET

Robot Ape: German Scientists' Freaky Creation Crawls, Takes Tilt-Table Test (VIDEO)

We've seen all types of robotic animals lately -- from the super-fast "cheetah" that reaches speeds of 29 mph to a dog drone that can carry 400 pounds to a tiny fly with minuscule robotic wings.

Now there's a new player in the critter 'bot kingdom, and it's more human-like than ever.

Researchers at the University of Bremen in Germany unveiled the robot ape -- a four-limbed gizmo that lurches along on its front "knuckles" and back feet. The 40-pound robot, which took over three years to develop, can move forward, backward, and sideways -- all without a control cable. It has pressure sensors on its back feet, and can even turn itself around and right itself if it falls over.

"We basically want to study locomotion in four legs and, later, two-legged locomotion," Dr. Frank Kirchner, a computer scientist and head of the DFKI Robotics Innovation Center in Germany that developed the 'bot in collaboration with the University of Bremen, told The Huffington Post.

This isn't the first mechanical ape to crop up on the robotics scene. In March, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University announced their CHIMP robot, an adorable little humanoid that can stand, crawl, and even climb ladders.

robot ape
The robotic ape is able to move forward, backward, and sideways.

The new $3.9 million robo-ape is part of iStruct, a project funded by the German Aerospace Center. Future robots will use artificial intelligence to learn to walk, rather than being programmed. This could help scientists learn about how humans evolved to stand on two legs.

"I'm curious myself to see what the results will be," Dr. Kirchner said. "My hope is that this will explain a little about the evolutionary process that man has gone through."

The ultimate goal for the project is to develop robots capable of exploring Mars and other celestial bodies.

"It will have effective locomotion in various unstructured terrains, and be able to pick up a sample or rock on extraterrestrial planet in the next 10 years," Dr. Kirchner said.

But you won't see the German ape 'bot swinging from the trees just yet. Next up for the team is the task of reworking the robot's spinal column, allowing it to twist as it turns and stand up on two legs and pick fruit from trees.

Whether robo-ape prefers robo-fruit remains to be seen.

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