Animals Are Becoming the Go-To Models for Robot Design

Hummingbird robots have more flexible features than standard flying robots and can hover like an insect and fly like a bird / Ondrej Prosicky via 123RF

 

Developments in robotics have always been a steady and continuous process. From creating the Mars rover, we went beyond and even learned to develop artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled robots. However, even as robot development is constant, its forms and designs are ever-changing, whether in real life or in fantasy.

For example, in dark science fiction movies, robots are usually depicted as humanoids to give a sense of dread at the sheer possibility of the AI takeover while in general-patronage movies, robots are depicted as cute characters. In real life, robots have taken on various forms to better enable them to perform the tasks that they are programmed for. For instance, a simple circular design is better for a robotic vacuum because they can easily pass through nooks and crannies compared to a humanoid robotic cleaner that will definitely take up a lot of space and won’t be able to reach every spot in the house or building.

For this reason, it is quite understandable that robots have varying forms and do not take on a single design. However, it seems that that status quo might soon change as more researchers and engineers are looking to design more robots after animals. 

Robotic Hummingbirds

In a report published in Techiexpert.com, it was said that drones may have just found their next look as researchers at Purdue University are bridging their functionalities in a robot hummingbird. Drones are today's most reliable security devices because they can provide the best aerial view for just about anything and are perfect tools for surveillance and rescue operations during disasters.

Unfortunately, the catch about drones is that sometimes, their sizes can be too big to survey an area. Thus, when researchers from Purdue developed AI hummingbird robots that can explore cluttered spaces and can be maneuvered through collapsed buildings, it is not surprising that many consider this as revolutionary, particular in the robot design and drone development.

According to the said report, size is not the only unique thing about them as these hummingbird robots, like their namesake, have versatile yet resilient wave wings that don't use conventional aerodynamics. In simpler terms, these hummingbird robots have more flexible features than standard flying robots and can hover like an insect and fly like a bird.

On top of that, let's not forget that they are AI-powered and can also teach themselves new tricks, sense surfaces and create a map about its surroundings, and are trackable. Compared to drones, these robots don't have cameras installed because of their lightweight design, tipping the scales at a mere 27 grams. The report said that the lightweight design is not something to criticize because this actually gives these robots more flexibility and enable them to explore more elevated areas. 

To compensate for the lack of camera, sensors and GPS, algorithms, and a durable electric battery are put in place. Right now, the team behind this kind of robot is reportedly exploring more capabilities for their creation.

The Rise of Animal Robots

Other than the news about hummingbird robots, it has also been reported that researchers are looking at using animals as blueprints for robots, as an article published in Iol.co.za mentioned.

According to the said article, there is an increasing number of animal-inspired robots and one of the latest additions aside from robotic hummingbirds are realistic robotic snakes that can slither, coil, swim, and climb. Rob Wood, a scientist from Harvard University, shared that some animals have specific features that make them the perfect models for robotic designs.

For example, a real-life snake is capable of slithering into nooks and crannies. Wood stated that by patterning robot designs after them, researchers can eliminate the need to make major mechanical adjustments. A snake robot, for instance, can better handle its own if it encounters an obstacle.

The report added that soon, it may even be possible that robotic reptiles with AI features can also be a standard part of the surgery process because of their exploration capabilities. Moreover, Dr. Amir Patel, a senior lecturer from the University of Capetown's Department of Electrical Engineering, also shared his interest in cheetah's tails as another blueprint of robot development.

Patel argued that there are many studies that show how lizards use their tails to condition their movement when they leap. He hypothesized that if lizards can use this technique, perhaps it may be possible that a cheetah, one of the fastest animals in the world, can also mimic this movement. And what will happen if we can replicate this technique through robotic cheetahs?

A snake robot can better handle its own if it encounters an obstacle / Андрей Суслов via 123RF

 

Right now, “animal” robots is the talk of the town and it seems that national governments and research institutions are also in on it and some prime examples of this phenomenon is how the United States’ Department of Defense requested the creation of controllable biomimetic robot bats, how Singapore is in favor of robot swans to monitor the water quality, or how NASA is planning to deploy a swarm of robotic bees on Mars to replace the modern rovers.

If this trend continues, it may be sufficient enough to say that animals may soon become the default robot design.