Image credit : Harvard Termes Project



What is your idea of a robot? An android? A machine that looks and acts like human beings?

Well, it seems that the future of robots is one that looks very different from our idea of them… Robotics, in fact, is taking much of its inspiration from the animal world, especially from those very small, almost invisible ones that we tend to kill unimportantly – but that hold some of the most fascinating secrets for robotic engineering.

Just to give you a glimpse as to what you may start seeing living next you in the near future, here are a few examples of what is going on in the world of robotics,

A team from the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, for instance, has built what it claims to be the smallest flying robot ever made, modeled on a tiny fly.

The robot is about the size of a penny and is designed to fly into the tiniest of places, reaching areas a human being would obviously not be able to.

Another team from the same university, Harvard, has instead focused its efforts into the building of termite-looking and acting robots.

Here, the researches applied the same group behavior seen in termites to the robots; one that allows them to sense cues from their group members and environment and use these to work together towards a common end.

Termites build their mounds by picking up information all around them; information that guides them to coordinate and harmonize their actions as a group – and this principle will be at the base of these termite robots.

One central benefit to that system will be to have robots able to build something without central management and, should one of them be eliminated for a reason or another, the end goal will remain achievable by the other robots.

Gimball is another fascinating example of this new generation of robots coming into play. Again, this robot is also modeled on another, small animal; a mosquito.

Here, the primary goal of Gimball’s design is to be able to survive a range of obstacles like crashes, collisions or other calamities that humans usually cannot.

Gimball is able, for instance, to crash into walls and bounce off trees.

The usefulness of this type of robot would be to navigate disaster areas impacted by fire, heavy wind, high radiation and collisions among others and still be able to operate normally.

At the Northwestern University of Chicago, a team is working on a very interesting type of robot; a robot fish, able to operate in water.

The size of a small-to-medium fish, the robot would be able to navigate both clear and dark waters, sensing its environment by using electric fields just like the fish found in Amazon’s murky rivers.

This type of robot could be used for a range of benefits, including, as the research team explains, to assess damage in oil spills for instance.

As one can see, robot design is very much based on the many and different capabilities that can be seen from a range of animals around us.

What animals are teaching us is thus promising to make the field of robotics a very interesting one, with much potential to surpass human capability in the near future.



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