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Current Issue of Nature


Volume 565 Issue 7739, 17 January 2019

Volume 565 Issue 7739, 17 January 2019

Robotic palaeontology

Exactly how the gait of four-legged vertebrates evolved when they first ventured on to land has proved difficult to decipher because of the often-limited amount of information preserved in the fossil record. In this week’s issue, John Nyakatura and his colleagues present a reverse-engineered reconstruction of how the stem amniote Orobates pabsti probably moved. This particular species lends itself to such a treatment as a complete fossil exists along with fossilized trackways that capture where it placed its feet as it walked. The researchers digitized both the fossil and the trackway before creating kinematic and dynamic simulations to identify plausible gaits. They then built a working robotic model of Orobates to validate their work. The results suggest that Orobates had more advanced locomotion — more upright, balanced and mechanically power-saving — than had previously been assumed for early tetrapods, suggesting that advanced locomotion might have preceded the diversification of amniotes.

Cover image: Photomontage of OroBOT and reconstructed Orobates pabsti by Jonas Lauströer, Amir Andikfar and John A. Nyakatura; photo of OroBOT from Tomislav Horvat and Kamilo Melo.

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