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.
In college I interviewed for a job in the engineering lab with a team that was big into developing nureal networks and it was really neat to see what they were doing, creating software that an solve problems and learn. That was a few years ago and I can't even imagine all of the progress they have made.
I think this is one of those areas where the final application may not be known by the team working on the initial concept. It reminds of when I was a kid and building with Legos. My mom would ask what I was buiilding and I'd answer, "I don't know yet." It'll be neat to see how some of these robots can be used for the betterment of humanity.
Beth, I must say that you get to write about the coolest things. Whether these designs are ultimately practical or not, I think it's good for the collective knowledge base of mankind to understand how biological systems work, by attempting to imitate them. In essence humans are participating in a sort of "evolution" by developing various physical and mechanical systems which will eventually be culled out or advanced based on their ability to survive the environments they are subject to (including economic environments!). I can't wait to see what's next.
What a great, great slideshow. Admittedly, I have trouble imagining some of applications for these robots. In particular, I'm wondering: Do we know what the civilian applications for the Robojelly, Ann?
Jim, I think you've got a very important point there. I had a similar reaction to the Virginia Tech MARS robot. I think a great deal of what we're seeing in robot design, especially some of the weirder military and biomimicry types, is from the fertile imaginations of sci-fi fans, whether their inspiration comes from the old pulp days, or 50s TV serials (like I grew up on), or later movies. Now that (good quality) CGI is practically indistinguishable from reality in movies, we'll probably see even more.
Beth, I also noticed that most of these were from university labs and R&D. Although several of them, like Boston Dynamics's machines, are funded by the military, some others appear to be highly theoretical, like a few examples from Virginia Tech.
Clearly, Nature is one of the biggest inspirations for technology development, but I contend that there is also a very influential Middle-Man to inspiration– that being Science-Fiction.I say middle-man, because of course, most science-fiction took its inspiration from natural observations, as well.Point being, the title slide image for this article (Virginia Tech's MARS Spider) immediately hit me as one of the spider robots in Steven Spielberg's Minority Report starring Tom Cruise.Remember the scene after he had is eyeballs transplanted, and was being chased by spider-bot tracking drones, as he hid underwater in a bathtub-? That scene always ran chills down my spine, contemplating future tech-apps, and this article instantly gave me the same recall!
Using wireless chips and accessories, engineers can now extract data from the unlikeliest of places -- pumps, motors, bridges, conveyors, refineries, cooling towers, parking garages, down-hole drills and just about anything else that can benefit from monitoring.
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