I have to admit, the references to sand fleas and cockroaches really got to me. The idea of developing robots based on animal behaviors makes perfect sense, but I have to ask, why sand fleas and roaches?? It's amazing that the connection was made between the movements of these bugs and the desired movements for these robots for their potential applications. All I can say is, Yuck!
I saw a New Yorker cartoon recently where two cowboys were riding along, one on a horse, the other on a giant grasshopper. The caption comes from the cowboy on the grasshopper. He says, "This will all make sense when we get to the next canyon."
Ann's stories about materials and contrations coming from natrue are getting ever more interesting.
Beth, it has always been the case that wars bring innovation. These units will be tested in theatre. The conditions will be demanding and threats real. If they prove useful it will be a big boost for this type of technology.
Good point about war prompting innovation. Wars are won almost exclusively on which side has the superior technology in the greatest quantity, whether it's horses in the West or atom bombs in the East.
Rob, I'm glad you enjoy my stories about biomimicry: they are sure fun to research and write. But as a student of military history, I have to disagree with you about how wars are won. Superior technology is not enough to do the job in all or even most cases. I have one word for you: "Vietnam." I have another: "Lawrence of Arabia." (OK, that was three words, but it's an excellent example.) TE Lawrence led not very well-armed Arabs against very well-armed Turks with superior technology and won because of superior strategy and tactics, superior knowledge of terrain, and superior military intelligence and bravado. There have also been many other situations where a smaller force with equal technology beat the heck out of a larger force. Celtic tribes beat the Romans for several centuries B.C. long before the Romans wised up, borrowed Celtic tactics, improved their own technology, and got more disciplined.
You make a really good point that it's not always technology. I think Vietnam was lost because of restrictions on engagement (and thank goodness for those limitations). It was suggest we use nukes in Vietnam, which certainly would have altered the outcome. So technology could have won -- as horrible as that would have been.
Another example to support your point of low-tech advantage in war was 9/11. The enemy confiscated our technology and succeeded with a willingness to kill civilians.
As for the earthworm, I was just postulating. And I enjoy very much your articles on biomimicry.
Regarding war and technology, I'd forgotten about the suggestion to use nukes in Nam--that would have been insane. And yes, 9/11 is a good example of a lower tech enemy trumping a high-tech nation. Interestingly, the Lawrence of Arabia biography I read recently points out that Lawrence's work fighting the Turks with the desert Bedouin pretty much started modern guerilla warfare, especially the use of explosives, in the Middle East. A mixed blessing. I highly recommend the biography--"Hero" by Michael Korda--for the history of the times as well as for the info about Lawrence.
I agree about the serendipity of Lawrence's death, a freak accident after everything he had lived through. What a tragedy. I think Korda's book is an exceptionally good read and covers a lot of history in the process. Since Lawrence was busy making that history, that's not hard to do in a biography of him.
OK, Rob, you got me curious. Wouldn't you know, there's a combination of predictions from the World Future Society about robotic earthworms for landfills to help with biodegradability and extracting metals and plastics (Forecast #4--the whole list is interesting):
I understand, Ann. I'm just surprised the concept is getting tossed around. That proposed idea is an interesting application for robotic earthworms. I would certainly guess the notion of it making topsoil from trash is a joke. But who knows, it might show up sometime as a trash mining apparatus.
I'm not so sure that making topsoil from trash is a joke. A couple of different microbes have been discovered that can or have the promise to, digest plastic and make it compostable. Theoretically, armed with some kind of delivery mechanism, robotic earthworms could then make that idea a reality.
My goodness, Ann. That's an impressive development. So potentially, a robotic earthworm could be created that would mimic two major aspects of an earthworm: the ability to burrow underground and the ability to process underground material into rich earth.
Rob I normally do not like to comment on references to wars, but you touched a sore spot here. For a war to be won; first tehr must be a clear cut objective and then there must be either an adversary willing to admt defeat or the total anihilation one side. I do not care if it is sticks against bombs, if the sticks are willing to wait long enough, centuries even, eventually the bombs will tire of the effort, declare victory and go away.
Guerilla tactics cannot win a war, it can merely prolong it until the other side tires of the exercise. Robert E. Lee saw that when he commanded the south to drop their weapons and go home, rather than continue to fight on a guerilla basis.
The anihilation tactic was evident in WW II. The Japanese had vowed to fight to "the last man" and the US demonstrated not only the ability, but perhaps even the willingness to kill the last man when Truman ordered the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Only then did the Japanese government call an end to hostilities.
The reason for the ineveitable outcomes in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan is because there are factions in each that are/were willing to wait as long as necessary while random bombings, suicide attacks and various similar tactics break down the will of the outsider's populace to support the activity.
DARPA has some of the strangest robots designed for use in the combat theater and they will only become stranger as time goes on. As far as robot bugs go, I think spiders would frighten me enough to drop my weapon and run away.
Ann, Good article. It's amazing the diversity of mobile robots but who would have imagined a robot that behaves like a cockroach that can move over a wide variety of rough terrain, plus climb telephone poles and stairs. Or a sand flea that can jump 30 feet in the air when it meets an obstacle. Is the appliation for these designs the equivalent of drones that can move over the terrain?
Al, I think you've basically answered Beth's question: If you need a critter that jumps extremely high and can land in weird places, a sand flea is a good candidate, and cockroaches can crawl over just about any surface. Boston Dynamics has already designed and built several other robots based on animal movement, so I suspect it didn't take much extra thought in the creative process to consider the "what if" of insects.
I just saw a web posting of a robotic creature that could jump up onto buildings and then jump off of them and get away. It was quite impressive, and it would certainly be a handy tool to deal with rooftop snipers, both for fighters and the police. But for dealing with IED challenges the directed energy device will probably be the solution in that it is able to detonate the weapon while it is still being transported, but if accidently directed at an innocent party they just experience a hot flash. That feature will save a lot of lives, I hope. I am not permitted to divulge any more information.
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