While robots can be designed to be faster or stronger than animals, it's rare to meet a robot that's as resilient as an animal in the wild after it's been injured. Animals adapt to survive and researchers from France and the US are developing robots that can keep working even after receiving major damage.
The last time we heard from the researchers working on MIT's robotic cheetah project, they had untethered their machine to let it bound freely across the campus lawns. Wireless and with a new spring in its step, the robot hit speeds of 10 mph (16 km/h) and could jump 13 in (33 cm) into the air. The quadrupedal robot has now been given another upgrade in the form of a LIDAR system and special algorithms, allowing it to detect and leap over obstacles in its path.
Starting in April 2011, the European Union CoCoRo (Collective Cognitive
Robots) research consortium has been developing three varieties of
autonomous underwater robots that school together like fish. By doing
so, the little bots can share and learn from each others' "knowledge" of
their environment, acting as a collective cognitive system that's
smarter than any one of its individual parts.
In nature, you're not likely to ever see a bird get a piggyback ride from a cockroach and then take off from its back. But in the world of bio-inspired robotics, such things can and do happen. Researchers from the UC Berkeley's Biomimetic Millisystems Lab have successfully demonstrated a cooperative launching system that puts a lightweight ornithopter on the back of its VelociRoACH robotic carpet crawler for a short run before the H2Bird takes to the air.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.