How much will it cost to learn why animals don't fall over?

RHex is a robot built at the University of Michigan based on discoveries by UC Berkeley's Robert Full about how cockroaches run. RHex is the center of a new, multidisciplinary effort to understand how we walk without falling over. (Photo: Daniel Koditschek, University of Michigan)

About $5-million U.S. — but it could be more if scientists at UC Berkeley and elsewhere in the U.S. are unable to come up with the answer over the term of the $5-million grant they just received from the U.S. National Science Foundation.
Seriously, though: If they find an answer to that question, scientists believe they will have figured out humans manage to get around without falling down. And if they figure that out, well, presumably it would be nothing at all to figure out how to make a humanoid robot walk around.
“The hallmark of life is movement,” said Robert Full, professor of integrative biology at UC Berkeley and leader of the team that received the grant. “Yet, no single systems-level model, reaching from neurons to muscles to the skeleton to the whole body, can explain the control that makes movement possible. You have so many nerves and so many muscles, how in the world do you actually move forward?”
The robot pictured here, incidentally, looks an awful lot like ones developed at McGill University in Montreal at that school's Centre for Intelligent Machines. There's a good reason for that since the 'RHex” brand of robots is being developed by researchers at McGill, Berkeley and the University of Michigan.
McGill has a RHex that can walk on its hind legs. Another one (pictured left at the bottom) can swim. It's also a tenacious little bugger that can even right itself after falling over a cliff. (There are many videos of the robots at McGill archived at the lab's Web site and many are sure to make you laugh. RHex on his hind legs is no exception. And you can just hear the scientists start laughing at the end of the RHex on the Cliff video. And please check out Bounder. But after you're done chuckling, think of the engineering wizardry required to get these gadgets to do what they do! Amazing.)

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