If you've ever seen a humpback whale's fins, you might have noticed that they have knobby bits along the front edge. These are known as tubercles, and they cause the water to flow over the fins in such a way that extra lift is created. They've been copied in efforts to produce better wind turbines
, undersea turbines
, helicopter rotor blades
... and now, Speedo swim fins.
When it comes to animals with good hearing, flies might not be the first one you'd think of. The Ormia ochracea
fly, however, has a unique hearing mechanism that allows it to precisely determine the location of a cricket based on its chirps ... it then deposits its larvae on the cricket, which ultimately consume the poor insect. Scientists at the University of Texas Austin have now duplicated that mechanism, with hopes that it could find use in applications such as next-generation hearing aids.
Scientists have already successfully coaxed stem cells into becoming red blood cells
, which could be used to create "man-made" blood for transfusion. Red blood cells, however, aren't the only component of human blood. Now, researchers at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital have also created functional human platelets, using a bioreactor that simulates the medium in which blood cells are naturally produced – bone marrow.
If you place pretty much any type of solid material in the ocean, barnacles will firmly attach themselves to it. If you were to try applying a glue to any of those materials while they were underwater, however, it likely wouldn't stick. So, what do barnacles know that we don't? Scientists have recently discovered the answer, and it could lead to advances in human technologies.
Besides being able to fly like a bird
, many people fantasize about having the ability to swim like a dolphin. Divers already have the option of replacing their two regular swim fins with one fluke-like flexible rubber monofin, although aerospace engineer Ron Smith claims that his invention is much more effective. Known as the DOL-Fin, it incorporates a wide rigid hydrofoil-type fin.
There seems to be no end to the proposed human technologies based on attributes of the squid. The animals' beaks have inspired a material that could be used for medical implants
, their muscles may lead us to color-changing clothing
, the chitosan in their "pens" has been used to create a proton-conducting transistor
, and their movements served as the inspiration for a soft-bodied robot
. Now, it turns out that the teeth inside the suckers on their tentacles might be the basis for materials that could be used in fields such as reconstructive surgery.
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are currently being considered for many applications, although one factor that a lot of people tend to gloss over is the aircrafts' limited battery range – being able to stay airborne for only 10 to 30 minutes at a time definitely limits their usefulness. Researchers at MIT, however, are developing a possible solution. They're working on a fixed-wing UAV that can perch on power lines and use their emitted magnetic fields to recharge its battery, before continuing on its way.
Geckos are likely better climbers than any other animal, so it's no surprise that a number of researchers have tried to copy that ability
via man-made technology. One group, from Stanford University, was particularly successful with a small climbing robot known as the Stickybot
. Four years ago, we heard about how they were also looking into applying the Stickybot tech to a system that would allow humans to climb up vertical surfaces. Now, DARPA has announced the first successful demonstration of that system, known as Z-Man.
When it comes to moving simply but effectively through a liquid medium, few things are as good as sperm. This fact isn't lost on scientists, who have built tiny sperm-like robots
(or even used "hijacked" sperm
) in efforts to create new methods of targeted drug delivery, among other potential applications. The latest such endeavor has resulted in a batch of microrobots known as MagnetoSperm.
In recent years we've seen a number of attempts at artificially replicating
the strong-yet-light characteristics of spider silk. It turns out that the silk itself isn't the only thing that's inspiring scientists, however. Researchers from the University of Akron have recently created their own version of the "attachment discs" that spiders use to secure their silk fibers to surfaces, when building webs. These man-made discs could conceivably prove superior to conventional glues as a form of adhesive.