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Preventing a Vehicle Rollover Requires Catlike Reflexes

Would a tail enhance the Jaguar F-Type's catlike reflexes? (U.S. News and World Report)

Automakers might be able to learn a couple new tricks from big cats, at least according to a recent study from the University of Cape Town in South Africa. PBS.org reports that researchers Amir Patel and Martin Braae unveiled a remote-controlled car named Dima, which remains stable in sharp turns with the help of a cheetah-inspired tail.

Dima has a top-heavy design, but its tail eliminates some of the rollover risk that’s generally associated with vehicles that have a high center of gravity. “Normally, top-heavy cars are poor handlers, and engineers go to great lengths to push as much of a vehicle’s weight as low as possible,” PBS.org reports.

In contrast, cars like the Tesla Model S (which earned a five-star safety rating from NHTSA) are extremely planted because the batteries are located under the passenger floor and make up a significant amount of the vehicle’s weight. PBS.org writes, “The Model S is so unflappable that, to test the strength of its roof in a rollover, crash testers had to devise a new way to get the vehicle to turn over—they couldn’t get it to flip at normal test speeds.”

The researchers demonstrated how the tail counterbalances Dima’s top-heavy nature, allowing for better weight distribution during turns. IEEE Spectrum reports, “After a bunch of experiments with both tail-less and tailed versions of Dima, results showed that the addition of the actuated tail allowed the robot to make stable turns at over twice the speed that it would be able to otherwise (7.5 m/s as opposed to 3.1 m/s).”

Kicking Tires writes, “The tail experiments could have implications with regard to how vehicles are, well, tailored — particularly emergency-response vehicles such as ambulances, police cars and military vehicles — to literally give them catlike agility at higher speeds.” Swinging a robotic tail could also work wonders for keeping tailgaters off your bumper.

Although we probably won’t see cars flicking their tails on the road any time soon, Kicking Tires notes that luxury cars like the 2014 Acura RLX, BMW 5-Series, Infiniti Q70 and Porsche 911 Turbo are available with four-wheel steering, which “turns all four wheels in the same direction at high speeds, more evenly distributing weight for improved stability.” If you want a closer look at Dima in action, check out the video above.

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