Researcher­s pin the statuette’s origin to Italy or Ukraine.


The Venus of Willendorf, one of the world’s oldest pieces of artwork, was made of oolite rock mined in Italy, more than 600 kilometres from her final resting place in Austria, according to new research.

Gerhard Weber at the University of Vienna used micro-computed tomography to obtain high-resolution images of the stone’s internal structure, to determine the stone’s place of origin.

With the help of geologists Alexander Lukeneder and Mathias Harzhauser of the Natural History Museum

Vienna, the researcher­s searched for oolite deposits in Europe and sampled them for comparison, covering an area stretching from France to Ukraine.

While the statue resembles contempora­ry Ukrainian art and tools, statistica­l analysis of numerous specimens yielded a telltale close match to a deposit in northern Italy, near Lake Garda.

Apparently emus – and ostriches – represent the pinnacle of evolutiona­ry achievemen­t.

Their legs seem to be backwards, with knees bent in the opposite direction to ours. And, as their lower leg swings forward, their foot flops down. Turns out, it’s a technique that’s extremely mechanical­ly efficient.

Dozens of bipedal robot designs continue to teeter about testing sites after decades of research. Their heavy metal bodies are studded with motors, actuators and gears. Software algorithms are still struggling to coordinate everything for basics such as balance and motion.

Now the Max Planck Institute for Intelligen­t Systems and the University of California, Irvine have developed a bird-leg inspired robotic mobility system 300 times more energy efficient, and far easier to balance.

Instead of motors, they’ve applied a network of artificial muscles and springs. The ‘muscles’ are primed when the leg is pressed into the ground and placed under load, releasing their mechanical spring energy as the leg straighten­s to move forward.

Only two motors are needed: One in the hips to get the legs swinging, the other is in the knee to lift the leg. The rest of the walking action is purely the result of the leg’s shape combined with the tendon-like effect of cables and pulleys.

The system has many benefits, say the researcher­s in

Science Robotics. Not only do the tendons return energy to the system, the natural mechanical motion dramatical­ly reduces the computing power needed to control its movements and balance.

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