Kara Watson tells us about some of the best robots that have been inspired by animals.

Print Editor for Sci&Tech. Third year Zoology student, mad about animals, mainly interested in animal behaviour.
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Sepios – Cuttlefish

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A student project in Switzerland has developed a robot which has four fins inspired by the cuttlefish. This is the only four-finned robot in the world. They are working to achieve omni-directionality with the robot, and it already has remarkably high manoeuvrability. Sepios is 70 cm long, with a wingspan of 95 cm. It can dive up to depths of 10 metres for about one and a half hours, and it can reach speeds of 1.8 km/h. On board it has a laser system for measuring distances and preventing collisions in addition to an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) with an accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer. All this allows for a smooth, low disturbance robot that could be used to get close to marine life for filming purposes.

Stickybot – Gecko

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The Stickybot

 

Now on its third generation, Stickybot III has been created by engineers at Stanford University. Geckos climb using tiny hairs on the pads of their feet which are small enough to interact with the molecules of the surface they are climbing, creating a dry adhesive system. Stickybot has a similar system using a rubber-like material and small polymer hairs to stick to even smooth surfaces like glass. At the moment it can move at 5 cm/sec. They are working on developing actuation at the wrist to allow the gecko to turn whilst climbing. This rotation is necessary as, like the real gecko, the adhesive only works in one direction. They are making Stickybot with the aim of scaling up the adhesive material to make a human suit. Spiderman could be on the horizon!

CRAM – Cockroach

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By studying the American cockroach, researchers at UC Berkeley have developed a robot cockroach, with the purpose of being used for search and rescue missions in rubble following natural disasters like tornados and earthquakes. This palm-sized robot has legs that it splays outwards when pressure is exerted, making it almost impossible to squash completely, and it is covered in a plastic shield like a cockroach’s wing-case. When tested, CRAM could fit through, and even run through, crevices that were half its height. It is hoped that it will improve rescues from disaster sites by locating survivors in the rubble and  finding safe entry points for rescuers to use.

RoboBee – Bee Colony

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Harvard University have used miniature robotics to mimic the small bee anatomy and also to replicate their hive behaviour. These little robots are agile, at only 80 mg in weight and with plastic wings that beat at 120 beats per second. Its power comes from being attached to a wire tether. Since the aim is to have a swarm of co-ordinated robots, a communication method needs to be created. The developers also aim to give RoboBee a small “brain” to control flight and even make it capable of simple decision-making. This is the first ever robot which can perform in about aerial and aquatic environments. By making water less conductive, and coating the robot in glue, RoboBee can swim as well as it can fly. It is hoped that RoboBee will be used for search and rescue, surveillance, weather mapping and to perform autonomous pollination of fields of crops.

SmartBird – Herring Gull

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This robot bird is incredibly light, aerodynamic, agile, and incredibly life-like. Made by a company called Festo, the SmartBird can start, fly and even land autonomously without any other systems to help it. It has an impressive wingspan of 6.4 feet and its wings can twist at specific angles, using an articulated torsional drive, to provide lift. Directional movement is controlled by the opposing motions of the head and the torso. It uses minimal amounts of materials which makes it very energy-efficient, and it is hoped that this will help with resource and energy consumption. Festo have definitely succeeded in decoding the flight of birds.

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