Scientists and engineers are increasingly turning to nature to find ways of creating better, tougher, more agile and more versatile robots.
The latest inspiration has been found in the tails of marine seahorses, which feature square bony plates — not something normally seen in nature, where cylindrical shapes are more common for animal tails.
Researchers looking to improve their robots have found the square shape improves the flexibility of seahorse tails without compromising their strength.
It's just the latest in a series of techniques and structures taken from nature that have found their place in robotics.
Tiny robots with a rounded outer shell modeled on that of the cockroach have proven their ability to move through densely-cluttered obstacles, something anyone watching a cockroach scuttle around a kitchen after the lights are turned on, would recognize.
"This is a terrestrial analogy of the streamlined shapes that reduce drag on birds, fish, airplanes and submarines as they move in fluids," lead study author Chen Li of the University of California, Berkeley told Tech Times. "We call this 'terradynamic' streamlining."
A robotics company in Massachusetts has looked to birds to create grasping legs that may someday allow small drones to perch in trees or on wires. The robotic legs, with a motorized claw to tightly hold onto a surface, could help the drone remain upright while observing a distant target.
In confined areas or indoor spaces, the legs could also help the drones to walk and move around to improve their observation vantage points, the researchers say.
Another animal technique useful for sensing and exploring their environment is whiskers — think of the housecat — and scientists have been working on developing "e-whiskers" that can detect slight air movements.
"Whiskers are hairlike tactile sensors used by certain mammals and insects to monitor wind and navigate around local obstacles," say researchers at the University of California who've developed highly sensitive whiskers of carbon nanotubes that can be affixed to robots to provide additional sensing capabilities for navigating their surroundings.
Marine creatures have also provided inspiration for engineers; researchers at the National University of Singapore have been working to create robotic turtles capable of deep ocean missions such as underwater surveillance, oceanic surveys and more deep sea operations.
The robotic turtle will be autonomous, with a computer brain guiding it through difficult underwater environments, the researchers say.
There are probably animals in our world that haven't yet inspired robot design — but you can bet robot engineers aren't going to overlook any possible inspirations from the natural world.
Photo: Oregon State University | Flickr