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)
Ann—fascinating article.I think it's a little scary what these things can do.I certainly understand the need to go where human health and safety would be compromised but I'm a little nervous relative to the more clandestine possibilities.Remember the movie "Minority Report" and the "bots" used to search for the hero (Tom Cruise)?He's lying there in the tub, under water, to avoid these pesky little devices that will certainly cause his capture and possible death.(OK so I'm paranoid!)The mechanical aspects represent just how far engineering has come and how successful y we have mastered emulating "moving things".I am also fascinated that programming can make these things do what is needed.
William, I think the nature observation app you mention is a good one, even if you meant it as a joke. Although wild animals would definitely notice little machines moving around they would, hopefully, not be attracted to them since they don't smell like food. OTOH, cats large and small like to play with creeping and crawling things, so the smaller robots probably shouldn't be used where the local wildlife includes large cats.
bobjengr, Philip K. Dick is one of my favorite science fiction authors, so I guess I'm kind of paranoid, too. Maybe I read and watch too much sci-fi. Anyway, yes I remember Minority Report. There's an awful lot of new tech in that movie. Those 'bots didn't scare me nearly as much as the talking ads. But I know what you mean, and I'm actually conflicted about the 'bots in this slideshow. I don't much like bugs and worms in real life (although I do like snakes) but these machines are fascinating. They attract me because of their amazing design, but they repel me because, well, they're crawly!
The first scary robots that I recall are in the book "Farenhite 451", which was about some sort of oppressive government, as I recall. Those robots shot poeple with morphine to capture them. And the robots were quite small, it seems.
The good news, at least so far, is that those who wish to attack us have not yet mastered the technology of robotics, except for remote controlled detonators.
So we now see that for good or bad, the development of various small "robotic things" is changing the world, if we want it or not.
Ann, only the part about the bear in the woods was intended to be funny. On the other hand, small robotic spies should allow for the study of different species in much closer detail than otherwise convenient, or even possible. And that would indeed probably be done with equipment similar to what private snoops would use.
William, the first scary robot I remember was Gort, in the original The Day The Earth Stood Still. I was pretty small, so he was pretty scary. Funny, I don't remember the robots in Fahrenheit 451 as scary. That book is about an oppressive government that outlawed books, among other things, and burned them publicly, just like Savonarola did in Italy during the Renaissance.
Ann, I think that they were called hounds, or dogs, or something like that. They chased people who ran, and sedated them with a morphine injection. They were not a large part of the story. If I can find that book again I will attempt to refresh my recollection of that part. But it was a long time ago that I read it, when it was current.
Rob, you're right of course about the friendly robots in movies. Robby was in Forbidden Planet, that amazing 50s sci-fi movie gem. But he tends to get eclipsed in my memory by all the scary ones. It does seem like robots have gotten mostly scary in movies again.
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Some humanoid walking robots are also good at running, balancing, and coordinated movements in group settings. Several of our sports robots have won regional or worldwide acclaim in the RoboCup soccer World Cup, or FIRST Robotics competitions. Others include the world's first hockey-playing robot and a trash-talking Scrabble player.
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