Highlights from the 2014 LA Auto Show

Biomimicry

A bacterium, after being 'deflated' by a cicada wing's array of blunt spikes

Imagine if you took a water balloon and placed it on a bed of widely-spaced blunt nails. While the nails wouldn’t be pointy enough to pierce the balloon’s rubber skin, eventually the weight of the water would cause the rubber suspended between the nails to rupture. Well, it turns out that the clanger cicada uses the same principle to kill bacteria that settle on its wings. That finding could result in a new generation of antibacterial materials.  Read More

Tallinn University's Prof. Maarja Kruusmaa inspects one of the FILOSE robotic fish

We’ve already seen several underwater robots that mimic the swimming abilities of fish. The European FILOSE research project, however, is also interested in copying another feature of our finned friends – their lateral line. The result could be swimming robots that use differences in water pressure to navigate and save energy.  Read More

The lesser dog-nosed bat and the robotic bat wing

Recently, we've seen a robotic ostrich. Now, there’s a robot bat – or at least, part of one. Joseph Bahlman, a graduate student at Brown University, with the help of Professors Kenneth Breuer and Sharon Swartz, has developed a robotic bat wing that mimics the ligaments, skin and structural supports of the real thing. The purpose of the motorized plastic bat is to gain a better understanding of how bats are engineered and fly.  Read More

A rendering of a future version of the crash-proof AirBurr, navigating a disaster site

If you’ve ever watched a fly trying to find its way around a house, you might have noticed that it didn’t take a particularly graceful approach – it probably bounced off a lot of windows and walls, until by process of elimination, it found a route that was clear. Well, researchers at Switzerland’s EPFL Laboratory of Intelligent Systems are taking that same approach with the latest version of their autonomous AirBurr UAV – it’s built to run into things, in order to map and navigate its environment.  Read More

A group of remoras, freeloading off a bull shark (Photo: Shutterstock)

If you’ve seen even a few minutes of any documentary on sharks, then chances are you’ve seen a remora. They’re the smaller fish that hitch rides on sharks by sucking onto them. Not only are the remoras able to achieve a seal against their hosts’ rough, sandpaper-like skin, but they also don’t appear to harm that skin in the process. Researchers from the Georgia Tech Research Institute are now studying how the remoras manage this, in hopes of applying their findings to the development of next-generation adhesives.  Read More

Konstantin Ivanov's walking ostrich robot was built with just $1,500

A group of four Russian robot fanatics calling themselves Konstantin Ivanov has built a walking ostrich robot with just US$1,500 and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. You can see it walking on a Russian television show, along with a robot-driven carriage, in the video after the break.  Read More

The silkmoth-piloted robot

In the future, we may have autonomous robots that follow scents to track down gas leaks, rescue disaster victims trapped in debris, or perform other duties. While the algorithms that drive such robots could perhaps just be made up from scratch, scientists from the University of Tokyo are instead looking to the insect world for inspiration. To that end, they recently created a two-wheeled robot that was successfully driven by female-seeking male silkmoths.  Read More

The Bastard Hogberry was one of the inspirations for the color-changing fibers

Materials scientists at Harvard University and the University of Exeter have invented a new class of polymer fibers that change color when stretched. As is often seen in nature, the color is not the result of pigments, but rather comes from the interference of light within the multilayered fiber. Inspired by Margaritaria nobilis – also known as the Bastard Hogberry – the new fibers may lead to new forms of sensors, and possibly to smart fabrics whose color changes as the fabric is stretched, squeezed, or heated.  Read More

The super gel's 'nano ropes,' linked together to form a net-like structure (Photo: Radboud...

Gelatins take on a semi-solid state when cool, and become a liquid when heated, right? Well, not always. Chemists from Radboud University Nijmegen, in The Netherlands, have created a “super gel” that behaves in the opposite manner – it’s liquid when cool, and stiffens when heated. What’s more, it reportedly absorbs water 100 times better than other gels. To make it, the researchers copied the protein structure of human cells.  Read More

Grace may look more like a '50s space ship than a fish, but that's by design (Photo: Xiaob...

A new species of robot fish has been spotted in the Kalamazoo River in the state of Michigan, where more than a million gallons of oil spilled in July 2010. Developed primarily by Xiaobo Tan, an associate professor at Michigan State University (MSU), the robot's sensors detected crude oil at various sites along the river.  Read More

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