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Biomimicry

While just about everyone knows that bats locate prey in the dark using echolocation, one thing that many people may not realize is the fact that horseshoe bats are particularly good at it. With this in mind, engineers at Virginia Tech are now developing a sonar system that emulates the system used by those bats. Once perfected, it could be a much more compact and efficient alternative to traditional manmade sonar arrays.

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Ants have a reputation as the hard workers of the animal kingdom, in part because they can lug around impressively heavy loads with respect to their size. But tiny new robots being developed at Stanford University are giving them a run for their money with the ability to pull up to 1,800 times their own weight.

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When surgeons are trying to operate on hard-to-reach organs, they'll often have to make multiple incisions to get at the area from different angles, or use tools such as retractors to pull other tissue out of the way. A team of researchers from Italy's Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies, however, is developing an alternative – a flexible octopus arm-inspired tool that can squirm its way between organs, then hold them back while simultaneously operating.

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The bombardier beetle has a unique defensive mechanism. It induces a chemical explosion inside its shell to create a boiling, toxic liquid which it sprays at its aggressor. Now researchers in the US have discovered how it does this, and they hope that further study of the conditions inside the beetle that allow it to produce the jet without harming itself may inform real world technologies.

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Mussels have an incredible ability to cling to wet surfaces. It's an ability that scientists are trying to replicate for use in man-made adhesives. That adhesion can't be turned on and off as needed, however, limiting its potential applications. That's where the Northern clingfish comes in. It can suck onto rough, slimy surfaces, supporting up to 150 times its own body weight when lifted. That said, it can also just let go and swim away whenever it wants. Scientists from the University of Washington now understand how it's able to do so, and are looking at applying the principle to fields such as surgery and whale-tracking.

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If you've ever seen a bat in flight, then you'll know how quickly and precisely they can maneuver. Scientists from Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University and the University of Maryland have now uncovered one of the key factors that allows them to do so – and it could have applications in the design of aircraft.

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As we approach the fifth anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, scientists are still trying to develop better ways of removing oil from water. Now, researchers at The Ohio State University believe that they may be onto something. They've developed a stainless steel mesh that allows water to pass through, but that stops oil. Read More
If you've ever watched a flying bird weaving its way through a forest, you may have wondered how it could do so without hitting its wings on the trees. Well, birds actually do hit trees with their wings. Unlike the rigid wings of an aircraft, however, birds' wings simply fold back under impact, then immediately fold open again to maintain flight. Now, scientists from Stanford University have developed wings for flapping-wing drones that do the same thing. Read More
Designing a robot that can convincingly move like a member of the animal kingdom is a much more difficult prospect than merely building something that has the outward appearance of one. Some of the best examples of both have come from the engineers at Festo, including a herring gull named SmartBird and a bit of a bounder known as the BionicKangaroo. As a taste of things to come at next month's Hannover Messe trade show in Germany, the company has now revealed three more biomimetic creations: a small colony of ants, a gripper modeled on a chameleon's tongue and some fine flyers in the shape of some big blue butterflies. Read More
We've already heard about two different studies in which scientists are developing camouflage systems inspired by squids' color-changing skin. If they're successful, the result could be military clothing that can change its coloration to match the environment. It's an intriguing idea, although it presumably still wouldn't allow soldiers to avoid detection by infrared cameras at night. Now, however, researchers from the University of California at Irvine are developed a stick-on covering that could let them do so. Read More
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