A major area of robot research and development comes under the category of biomimetics, or biomimicry, which looks to nature for inspiration. Some robots resemble different kinds of animals. For example, Boston Dynamics' Cheetah has broken legged-robot speed records at 18mph. (It can't match a real cheetah's 70mph.) The company is well known for its pioneering development of robots that use motions based on animals to run and maneuver, such as the BigDog.
Many robots modeled after animals are developed for military and first-responder applications. They can be based on insects, like the University of California, Berkeley's OctoROACH; worms, like MIT's Inchworm; and even jellyfish, like Virginia Tech's Robojelly. Many have similar applications, and some have similar funding sources. They are designed for reconnaissance, surveillance, and the ability to go where humans can't -- sometimes in tiny spaces, sometimes in dangerous territory, and sometimes in rugged or unusual terrain.
Click on the photo below to see a slideshow of 10 of these creepy-crawly robots.
The Multi-Appendage Robotic System (MARS) from Virginia Tech's Robotics & Mechanisms Laboratory looks like a giant spider with six legs instead of eight. Fabricated out of carbon fiber and aluminum, the robot's legs are spaced axi-symmetrically around its body, which lets it walk omni-directionally. Each leg uses a proximal joint with two degrees of freedom and a distal joint with one degree of freedom for added strength and rigidity. The goal is to develop a walking gait system for negotiating terrain with variations in height. The system is based on simplified biological neuron networks, arranged in subnetworks and subsystems to support the operation of another neural network: a central pattern generator (CPG) that generates gait patterns based on feedback from all supporting systems. (Source: Virginia Polytechnic and State University)
Charles, I think that while the engineers are aiming robojelly at a particular function, in reality that function could be done by other developments. However, the "cool-factor" comes from the materials being used and the self refueling aspects. At the end of day, developments like this may very well be a proof of concept with a possible application and the resulting technologies can be broken apart and used elsewhere.
It is hard to imagine some of the applications, especially the jellyfish. I don't remember reading if any of the robots have audio capabilities. Do any of the robots have both audio and visual capabilities?
Jmiller, that's what makes the field of Biomimetics so fascinating. The journey of science and engineering mixed with biology inspiration and creativity makes this technology roller coast ride a thrill to be on. I'm so inspired by these slides that I will be directing the Capstone Class at ITT
Technical Institute to view them for a possible design project.
In some ways, designing one of these robots with a particular application in mind could put artificial limits on the innovation. It's almost like letting the student or professional engineering teams go rampant with their imagination will make for the coolest, and potentially widest-range robots--particularly those that can be applied to practical applications likely never envisioned by their creators.
Science fiction is moving along. It's just that now concepts and ideas become imaginary and hard to understand (long gone are the days of submarines and spaceships as fiction). Several sci fi writers have tried to explain transcendence to another state completely. Talk about shedding our physical form and becoming an energy form. As fiction goes it's so far removed from reality not many care for it any more. Also it's harder to dazzle readers or viewers with amazing ideas with difficult to pronounce names ever since Google was invented. It is common now for writers to use catch phrases for certain tech without informing the reader about it. Nano-tech and Pico-tech is becoming a very lame standard for something amazingly powerful and small. I have personally experienced a decline in my appreciation of science fiction.
Thanks, Chuck, glad you liked it. This was a lot of fun to put together. Most of the military apps for these appear to be reconnaissance/surveillance, somewhat like the smaller versions of my Military Robots slideshow, with civilian apps falling into the first responders category of going where people can't (small, dangerous spaces). Although I didn't see specific civilian apps mentioned for Robojelly on the Virginia Tech researchers' BMDL site, I suspect they might be something parallel to military surveillance, such as remote monitoring/data gathering for marine biological labs, like the one at Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.