Biomimicry follows a simple process: to innovate by taking inspiration from the natural skill of animals, like the superhuman strength of ants or the flexibility of cockroaches. Once endowed, robots could prove themselves invaluable in responding to natural catastrophes or assisting people in dangerous missions.
CRAM, the sneaky cockroach robot
The big problem with pests like cockroaches is their ability to squeeze themselves into the tiniest nooks of our houses, even reducing their size by half to get in, without affecting their movement. Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley have figured out how to exploit this cunning, with the creation of the Compressible Robot with Articulated Mechanisms (CRAM), or the cockroach robot. According to its initial reports, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, we know exactly what to use it for: first aid. “If there are lots of cracks and vents and conduits, you can imagine just throwing a swarm of these robots in to locate survivors and safe entry points for first responders,” explains Robert Full, one of the robot’s inventors.
Geckos in space
The gecko has the unique ability to stick to anything, thanks to adhesive, sucker-like strips on its fingers. If gloves inspired by these strips already allow amateur climbers to climb anywhere, harnessing them for robots could mean bigger opportunities—and not just on Earth. The European Space Agency (ESA) understands this. They created Abigaille III, a robot inspired by the gecko that can maneuver on horizontal and vertical surfaces and help astronauts avoid risky outings, particularly with spaceship repairs.
The hero tarantula bot
Alone in his garage, Norwegian engineer Kåre Halvorsen, known as Zenta, used a 3D printer to give birth to Mx-Phoenix, an all-terrain tarantula robot. Composed of six paws each containing three motors, it currently moves a little slow. Like the gecko, its high mobility allows it to access areas unreachable by man. It could then be used as a triage scout and, better still, if the design is improved, could help rescue people trapped in rubble.
A lemur on the team
Climbing, crawling, and squeezing, that’s all well and good. But we’re missing an important element in the toolbelt of a first responding robot: acrobatics. And that can be found in Salto, a robot inspired by the lemur, also created by University of California at Berkeley researchers. At 10 inches and 3.5 ounces, it’s light, but it’s capable of jumping three feet high, nearly four times its height, and bouncing off again. It could prove essential in landslide scree, where it’s often difficult for first responders to climb rubble.
Festo’s robotic zoo
The Bionic Learning Network of the German company Festo finds inspiration in nature to produce solutions for the factories of the future. Inside its little zoo, one can find BionicANTS, a swarm of robot ants whose collaboration and organization in completing tasks rivals that of the real thing. The researchers have also created eMotionButterflies, ultra-light electronic insects that can fly together with the flexibility of a butterfly.