Dinosaurs are a relatively new addition to the world of science. While some fossils had been found during the Renaissance, it wasn’t until the 19th century that more complete fossil skeletons presented what these ancient animals may have looked like. In 1824 the first dinosaur had been named: Megalosaurus. Since then there have been many different interpretations of various fossils found and one of the things that has been revised over time is how scientists think these animals moved.

Artistic illustration of Orobates walking
Via: Jonas Lauströer (HAW Hamburg), Amir Andikfar (HAW Hamburg), John Nyakatura/EPFL

With no skin or feathers left to examine and only a few distantly-related descendants on the planet today, trying to figure this is an educated guessing game. But, with a more complete skeleton one team of scientists and paleontologists decided to “rebuild” copies of fossils in order to make a robot that moves like the real animal would have millions of years ago.

The genus in question is Orobates and it dates from 300 million years ago, long before dinosaurs evolved. At first glance it was thought that these early tetrapods, which weighed about the same as a small Shih Tzu dog, would have moved like a lizard or even an axolotl. This makes sense since this genus are stem amniotes, creatures with links to both lizards and amphibians.

Orobates footprints
Via: Sebastian Voigt (Urweltmuseum Geoskop Thallichtenberg)/EPFL

The first step was to reconstruct the skeleton of an Orobates that in this case was found next to impressions of its gate when it was alive. This gave researchers a unique perspective on how the animal most likely moved. They also took into account and studied the movements of animals alive today that have similar types of bodies to see how they move.

Orobates fossil
Via: Thomas Martens (Museum der Natur Gotha)/EPFL

After creating a 3D computer model, they were able to animate the model to walk in the fossilized footsteps. Then they decided to test their model even further by building a robot based on the fossils of the creature. They named the robot OroBot and what they found was that it moved surprisingly like the caiman, a close relative of the alligator. The agility and stamina of an animal like a caiman suggests a much more developed creature, one that could potentially travel longer distances than many small amphibians do today.

OroBOT against grey background
Via: Tomislav Horvat (EPFL Lausanne), Kamilo Melo (EPFL Lausanne)/EPFL

You can see more about this fascinating project in the video below.