Kinect-Controlled Cockroaches

Cockroaches are tough to get rid of (although claims of their ability to survive a thermonuclear explosion are somewhat exaggerated). So if we can’t kill them, maybe we can control them? Continue reading

Dry Adhesive Helps Drones Land on Walls, Ceilings

When I’ve covered biomimicry in robotics in the past, it’s usually been in the context of how the drone or robot flies or walks. In a slightly different spin on technology modeled on nature, researchers at Stanford and the University of Maryland have come up with a small flying drone (the AVL Microquad) that can cling to walls and ceilings using a dry adhesive. Continue reading

Spider Robots In Outer Space: Biomimicry, B Movie or Both?

As this is my third post about insect-like robots, regular readers may start thinking I’m a bit obsessed. I’m not (at least I don’t think I am); I’m just trying to drive home the point that great designs can be lifted from nature without too much tinkering.

I’ve previously posted about cockroach-like rescue robots, and spider robots manufactured using a 3D printer. This time, I’m focusing on the much larger Spidernaut, a NASA creation designed for constructing and maintaining large on-orbit structures in space. The robot’s eight legs help it disperse its mass over a large area without imparting any torque when it moves. The extra-vehicular robot (EVR) is under development at the Johnson Space Center.

Because these robots could move “lightly” they would be great for constructing and maintaining fragile space science platforms and vehicles. According to NASA’s website, these eight-legged robots can spread climbing loads evenly across a structure: Continue reading

3D Printing Spawns Robotic Spiders

3D printing is enabling all sorts of advancements in design and prototyping, and now some German engineers are leveraging the technology to produce low-cost, potentially disposable robotic spiders.

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation in Stuttgart hope to use selective laser sintering (SLS) to create small, low-cost robots that look and walk like spiders. Using elastic drive bellows that generate pressure and pump fluid into the devices’ legs, the robotic arachnids can crawl and jump very much like the real thing.

The Fraunhofer team can generate interchangeable, modular parts for the robots using the 3D printers, increasing flexibility and lowering cost significantly. Thin layers of polyamide powder are applied and melted in place, allowing the group to produce “complex geometries, inner structures and lightweight components.” Leg modules can even be designed with variable load-bearing characteristics. According to the Fraunhofer website: Continue reading

Engineers Use Biomimicry to Build Robot Roaches for Search and Rescue

We’ve all heard that, in the event of a global apocalyptic catastrophe, the most likely life form to emerge from humanity’s ashes would be the cockroach. Well, now those notoriously hard-to-kill insects may be joined by some robotic counterparts.

Yesterday we shared some advances in robotics designed to help humans complete day-to-day activities. Today, we look at a special-purpose robot. Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley — lifting a bit of engineering inspiration from nature via biomimicry — have designed the DASH Plus Wings, which looks like a roach, can climb a 17-degree incline, and moves at 1.3 meters per second. The wings on the robot, although they don’t actually enable flight, do help increase its mobility.

The original DASH (short for Dynamic Autonomous Sprawled Hexapod) was built by the Biomimetic Millisystems Lab at Berkeley, which specializes in harnessing animal features to improve millirobot functionality. The addition of wings not only improved locomotion, but also shed some light on the evolution of flight. According to the researchers:

Prior theoretical models predicted that a ground-dwelling animal would need to triple its running speed to allow for takeoff. While the winged robot did improve its terrestrial capabilities, it fell short of the necessary speed-up required to enable flight. Combined with new fossil evidence, we concluded that our robot lends more indirect evidence to the theory that flight evolved from tree-dwelling gliders. Perhaps more importantly, we believe that these experiments demonstrate the feasibility of using robot models to test hypotheses of flight origins, and hope to continue to use robotic models to illuminate the question of avian flight evolution.

Winged robots could potentially be used in military reconnaissance, exploring hazardous areas, and search and rescue operations. For instance, the robots could squeeze into a collapsed building to search for survivors. (So much for less creepy rescue robots.) Continue reading


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