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The Green Life: Nature-Inspired Robots Fly, Swim, and Run

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November 25, 2011

Nature-Inspired Robots Fly, Swim, and Run

Robot futureMother Nature picked up a few nifty tricks over the billions of years of life's evolution on Earth — and today's scientists are trying to re-create that trial and error (albeit at a somewhat faster pace) to help robots run, swim, and fly. Engineers at UC Berkeley recently found that adding wings improved the stability and balance of DASH, a buglike six-legged robot. It's a discovery that could shed light on the biological adaptation of flight.

Using similar principles of biomimicry, another group of scientists gave greater mobility to Robojelly, an underwater surveillance robot originally created for the U.S. Office of Naval Research to monitor chemical spills, fish migrations, and naturally, the whereabouts of enemy ships. Engineers at VirginiaTech improved the silicone spy's performance by tweaking its design in ways that model the anatomy of a moon jellyfish. Other marine creatures inspire mechanical counterparts too: Robotic fish detect oil spills and algal blooms.

Anyone paranoid about a Terminator-style future of robot domination should be scared of the Nano Hummingbird, a tiny, remote-controlled, camera-wielding flying craft that hovers and maneuvers just like — yup — a hummingbird. Rather than stalking flowers for nectar, the robot-bird would likely be used for military and law-enforcement operations. (Pair the dainty Nano Hummingbird with the still-theoretical FastRunner, an ostrich-inspired speed machine, and Team Robot is looking pretty fierce.)

Other species, including butterflies and bats, are in engineers' sights. And of course, there's the classic model for the robot future: It's people.

--Della Watson

Click below to watch videos of the nature-inspired robots: 

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