5 Breakthrough Robots Built to Mimic Animals (Videos)

Biomimicry -- the art of mining nature for design solutions and technological breakthroughs -- has been behind some of the most promising, most pioneering robots to be created in recent years. From mule-imitating military walkers to butterfly-inspired aviation, robots are increasingly finding their schematics more closely aligning with the DNA of flesh-and-blood, sentient creatures. It's fascinating stuff -- which is why, when Discovery asked me to plug the latest episode for its show Dean of Invention (airing on Planet Green, November 5th at 10 pm!), which focuses on nature-mimicking robots whose abilities exceed humans', it gave me a happy excuse to take a look at some of the best biomimetic robots built thus far: 1. US Military's Big Dog
The all terrain robot walker in the video above was designed by Boston Dynamics to help carry supplies through obstacle-laden battlegrounds and other environments. It's design mimics the movement of a mammal, emulating the muscles and joints in the robotic legs. The Big Dog can carry far heavier load than a human soldier can, and will help relieve their burden on the battlefield.

2. Robotic Fish Senses Pollution
It looks and moves like a real fish, but it serves a distinctly utilitarian purpose: Collecting and disseminating information on how polluted the water it's swimming in might be. Here's Petz Sholtz on how it works:

The robot fish resembles a carp, imitates the movement of a real fish but costs slightly more; some £20,000. The robot fish can swim at a speed of roughly 1 meter per second. Chemical sensors help find potential dangerous contaminants such as leakage from boats or underwater pipelines. Once found traces of pollutants, the robot fish send the information on by Wi-Fi.

3. Artificial Butterfly a Breakthrough in Aviation
The video above shows an artificial swallowtail butterfly mimics the movement patterns of its insectoid counterparts. Jaymi Heimbuch explains:
Researchers successfully built and flew a flapping-wing-powered swallowtail butterfly, which could have big implications for the field of aerodynamics - after all we saw those videos of early airplanes that attempted to fly by flapping wings and they sure didn't work ... The researcher copied the size and shape of the wings, as well as the membranes and veins that run across them. Sill, the downward angle of this flight pattern seems less like flying. We'd have to see it moving upward to believe it.

4. RoboClam Creates a Bionic Anchor
Inspired by razor clams, this robot, creatively named the RoboClam, mimics the way they dig into the ocean floor to create a more effective, efficient anchor. The primary goal in developing this slightly-creepy robot was to create an anchor that could more easily set and unset -- anchors of the archaic variety are inefficient, and apt to get jammed on the seafloor. As you can see above, this slithery robot has no such trouble.

5. Soft-bodied Robots Move Like Caterpillars
It turns out that the movement of caterpillars is much more complex than that stunted inching motion would let on. Jaymi explains, "a caterpillar actually moves its internal organs forward before moving its legs. A team of researchers at Massachusetts' Tufts University is working on soft-bodied robots and has looked to this quirk of caterpillars as biomimetic inspiration for their designs. The future of robots could lay with the comical blobs of color found inching their way around your back yard."

More info on Dean of Invention at Planet Green.
More on Biomimcry and Robotics
Butterfly Biomimicry Can Curb Counterfeiting of Banknotes
Awesome Biomimicry : Leaf Veins Inspire New Model for Water and Electricity
Can We Use Biomimicry To Design Cities? Janine Benyus Says Yes

Tags: Biomimicry | Television


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