Slideshow: Robots Gone Wild
Creatures from across the animal kingdom offer design principles to make robots more useful, engaging, and lifelike
AquaJelly, a mechatronic jellyfish designed by Festo, a German automation company, investigates how small autonomous robots could cooperate to solve larger problems. This robot has electric drive, eight tentacles for propulsion, and infrared LEDs that pulse signals to communicate its position to other robots.
Photo: David Guttenfelder/AP Photo
Love is the motive for Paro, a therapeutic robotic seal that nuzzles, wiggles, and coos to comfort humans. The robot, which sells for about US $6000, responds to sound and touch through microphones and tactile sensors. Takanori Shibata, a senior research scientist at Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, reasoned that users would judge a robotic harp seal less severely than they might a robot based on a familiar animal like a dog or cat.
Photo: NanoRobotics Lab at Carnegie Mellon
Robots offer a convenient platform for studying some of nature’s more outlandish phenomena. Mechanical engineers at Carnegie Mellon’s NanoRobotics Lab built a water-skimming robot inspired by the common basilisk lizard, also known as the Jesus lizard for its ability to run on water at high speeds.
Photo: Mark Cutkosky/Stanford University
ECHO OF GECKO
With gecko-inspired adhesive pads on its toes, StickyBot can scale glass, plastic, and other smooth surfaces. Engineers at Stanford’s Biomimetics and Dextrous Manipulation Laboratory built toes lined with hundreds of polymer stalks that anchor the foot in place. To detach from a wall, the robot smoothly peels its toes backward.
Photo: Team RoboSwift
RoboSwift is designed to mimic one of the fastest flying birds, the common swift. Designed by student engineers at Delft University of Technology and Wageningen University and Research Center, both in the Netherlands, the micro-airplane has movable wings. It gains elevation by using a tiny motor and a propeller attached to its beak.
Photo: The Biorobotics Lab at Case Western Reserve University
BORN TO RUN
”Puppy” has the same joint range and skeletal dimensions as an adult female greyhound. Built by the Center for Biologically Inspired Robotics Research at Case Western Reserve University, the robot moves with 12 degrees of freedom that are pneumatically actuated using air muscles, which consist of a flexible tube encased in a mesh.
Photo: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images
FLEET OF FIN
The first autonomous robotic fish was designed by the Human Centred Robotics Group at the University of Essex, in England; until 2007, one specimen was a resident at the London Aquarium. The group is now building a school of robotic fish to monitor water pollution at ports.
Photo: A. Herzog, courtesy of Biologically Inspired Robotics Group, EPFL
A robotic salamander built by the Biologically Inspired Robotics Group at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne is the first robot that can swim, walk, and do a serpentine crawl. Salamandra robotica has a built-in numerical model of a spinal cord that allows it to change its gait in response to electrical signals.
Photo: Garnet Hertz
This cockroach-controlled robot, designed by Garnet Hertz, is equal parts art project and scientific study. A cockroach is strapped on top of a wheeled vehicle with a computer trackball beneath its feet. The motions of the trackball control the movement of the vehicle. When the cockroach turns, so does the vehicle.
Photo: Craig Bailey/Northwestern University
SINK OR SWIM
RoboLobster, a biomimetic robot intended to identify and destroy underwater mines, scuttles out of the labs at Northeastern University, in Nahant, Mass. Plastic antennas detect obstacles, eight legs provide propulsion, and clawlike paddles add stability in turbulent water.
Photo: Yvonne Boyd
To conquer the world’s toughest terrain, robots are learning tricks about sand scampering from some of the finest desert runners on the planet. Zebra-tailed lizards and ghost crabs in a lab at Georgia Tech provide running tips to SandBot, a robot built at the University of Pennsylvania.
Photo: Yuriko Nakao/Reuters
No zoo of robotic animals would be complete without a poop-free pet. Lacking ambitions to swoop into dangerous terrain, map distant planets, or do more than cluck, Sega Toy’s robotic chicks settle for displaying a striking resemblance to real 4-day-old chickens. For about US $20, the Dream Chick will flap its wings and chirp in response to being stroked.