Gizmodo has a fascinating new piece up about “How Nature Is Inspiring a New Breed of Robotic Design.” By mimicking the locomotion of various kinds of living organisms, engineers are building impressively mobile robots. This includes mimicking amphibians to create robots that can swim and walk, mimicking bats or hummingbirds to make robots that fly, and mimicking dogs and cockroaches to build robots that can walk (and throw things too!). Here’s a fearsome example:
The article includes a nice explanation of biomimicry:
Biomimicry is the conscious emulation of life’s genius. The word “conscious” refers to intent — it is not enough to design something without nature’s help and then in retrospect say, “This reminds me of something in the natural world.” That’s called convergent evolution, but it’s not biomimicry. Biomimicry implies conscious forethought, an active seeking of nature’s advice before something is designed.
The word “emulation” is also carefully chosen, because it is more nuanced than mere copying or slavish imitation. Biomimics may study a spider to learn about sensing, fiber manufacture, adhesion, or tensegrity, but we are not actually trying to recreate the spider. What we’re trying to emulate are the design principles and living lessons of the spider. How a spider meets its needs while helping to enhance its habitat is as important to a biomimic as how it spins its silk.
What’s that? “Design principles” in nature? If biology-inspired robots were designed, what does that mean for biology?