Once again, technology is imitating nature with a new class of biologically inspired robots called "Biomimetic Robots." In this very long article, IEEE Computer Magazine looks at several projects currently underway. All these projects will have practical applications a few years from now. They include robotic lobsters for underwater mine research or flying insect-based robots for future spatial missions. Other projects are about cricket-inspired robots to be used in rescue missions or scorpion-like robots to be deployed in hostile environments for humans. and of course, there are the now famous and robust "sprawling" robots based on cockroaches. For more information, read the whole very well documented article. Or read more for a photo gallery...
The Sprawl family of robots is developed at the Center for Design Research at Stanford University. These six-legged robots "draw their inspiration from the physical construction and mechanical design principles that are responsible for the robustness of the cockroach," according to Mark Cutkosky, a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.
Here are two links to the family of sprawl robots and to the IndependentSprawl one known as iSprawl.
||The iSprawl is the first fully autonomous member of the Sprawl family. It is about 11 centimeters in length and can run at 15 body-lengths/second (over 2.3m/s). (Credit: Center for Design Research at Stanford University)|
One team investigating about robotic lobsters is working to give to the robots a "nervous system." This project is based on research done "on lobster and crayfish nervous systems conducted in the 1970s by Joseph Ayers, a biology professor at Northeastern University."
The actions of real lobsters have been reverse-engineered and programmed into a library of actions which give the robotic lobster a similar behavior as the real ones. You'll find other details at the Biomimetic Underwater Robot Program at the Ayers Robotics Laboratory at Northeastern University.
||This robotic lobster imitates the real lobster behavior. (Credit: Jan Witting, Northeastern University)|
The Entomopter family of crawling and flying insect-based robots is designed at Georgia Tech. They can be used as surveillance tools and can fly both indoor and outdoor. There are currently two versions. "This generation of the Entomopter is designed for operation in two atmospheres: a 50-gram terrestrial version and an aerospace version designed for use in different gravitational environments." The Entomopter might even be used on future Mars missions.
You'll find much more details by visiting the Entomopter Project website.
||Here is a rendering of the Entomopter-based robot flying over Mars (Credit: Georgia Tech).|
||And this one shows the Entomopter-based Mars surveyor looking over the cliffs. (Credit: Georgia Tech).|
Elsewhere, at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU), researchers are building cricket-inspired robots, which can walk and jump. Roger D. Quinn, professor of mechanical engineering at CWRU and director of Biologically Inspired Robotics Lab, is working with his team are not only working on robots inspired by cockroaches and crickets, but also on a hybrid mechanism called Whegs (wheels plus legs).
You'll find more information, including diagrams, pictures and movies at the Micro-Cricket Series Robots page and at the Cricket Cart one.
||Here is a cricket-inspired robot, approximately three inches long, designed for both walking and jumping. (Credit: CWRU) This kind of robot uses sound to find potential similar robots. This could be useful in search and rescue missions.|
Finally, here is a scorpion-based robot developed at Fraunhofer Autonome Intelligente Systeme (AIS) in Germany. These robots are designed to work in harsh environments. They have eight legs and are bigger than the other robots mentioned above with a height of 60 centimeters and a weight of almost 10 kilograms. You'll find many more details and pictures on the Scorpion home page.
||Here is the scorpion-based robot entering water. (Credit: Fraunhofer AIS)|
A last word: be sure to read the whole IEEE Computer Magazine if you're interested by biomimetic robots.
Sources: Linda Dailey Paulson, IEEE Computer Magazine, September 2004 issue; and various websites