Intelligent Behavior Animals Robots
Nature is nothing if not ingenious, filled with adaptations and specialties we’ve learned to use to our advantage. Scientists are now attempting to go one step further by mimicking animals talents — in the water, on land and in the air — in intelligent robotic animals that will be able to find their way through burning buildings, carry military cargo and clean up oil spills.
Flying Robot Bird
Don’t be fooled by its elegant flight — SmartBird is no bird. Its skeleton is made of carbon fiber, its body consists of foam plastic, and it’s got electronics in place of guts.
BIONIC DESIGN – In the air, the remote-controlled robot called SmartBird moves like a real bird. It can take off, fly and land as effortlessly as its flesh-and-blood counterparts. Technicians from German electronics company Festo spent months analyzing the way a herring gull flies in order to create a robot that is capable of doing the same thing.
The company developed SmartBird as part of its Bionic Learning Network, in which biological principles are adapted for industrial application.
With a wingspan of 6.5 feet, SmartBird is bigger than real gulls, but it only weighs a pound. Like the birds that inspired it, the robotic bird achieves flight thanks to its two-piece wings: The innermost part provides thrust and the outermost gives momentum. The latter part’s angle can be controlled with great precision by small motors that constantly adjust to the wind conditions and that can rotate 45 degrees in a mere fraction of a second.
The angle of the tail determines whether SmartBird flies up or down, and also provides part of the thrust. The direction of the robot’s head can also be controlled, enabling SmartBird to use its entire body to turn, which makes it highly maneuverable — just like a real gull.
Robotic Insects Spy
SEARCH OPERATION – One of the most impressive small flying robots inspired by an insect is the DelFly Micro, which remains airborne via two sets of wings, just like a dragonfly.
The robot weighs only a tenth of an ounce and can fly for three minutes at a maximum speed of 16 feet per second. It can be operated by remote control and is equipped with a small camera that wirelessly transmits video to a computer.
The Micro has been designed to fly into buildings on the verge of collapse to search for people trapped inside. Its even lighter successor, the DelFly Nano, is already on the drawing board.
If scientists can perfect them, an armada of artificial jellies will one day patrol the oceans for scientific and industrial purposes. The robotic jellyfish can even power themselves by harnessing energy from seawater.
SEA PATROL – When equipped with the proper sensors, artificial jellyfish can map out marine life, continuously inspect the quality of the water, and even help clean up after oil spills by using special filters.
Mimicking jellyfish in a robot is very practical: They can cover long distances using a simple locomotion technique without consuming much energy. U.S. scientists recently developed a robotic silicone jellyfish with muscles made of metal wire that is wound in carbon nanotubes coated with platinum dust. When the dust comes in contact with the hydrogen and oxygen found in water, it generates heat, causing the metal wire to contract, which enables the jellyfish to “swim.”
And because hydrogen and oxygen are abundant in seawater, the robot will have a limitless power supply, allowing it to roam about for months or even years.
Water Strider Robot
WATER-QUALITY INSPECTION – Although researchers have developed robots that can walk on water like insects such as water striders do, they have struggled to replicate the insect’s ability to leap atop the surface. Water striders egs accomplish this thanks to their superhy-drophobic quality, in which extreme water repellence allows the bug to use the water’s surface tension like a trampoline.
Chinese scientists have solved the problem by outfitting a microrobot with feet made of water-repellent nickel foam, which prevents it from sinking despite its weight of four-tenths of an ounce — some 1,000 times heavier than a real water strider. The robot can cover almost 14 inches in a single jump, enabling it to scale small obstacles on the surface of the water. Possible uses include reconnaissance and water-quality inspection.
Robotic Zebra Fish
RESEARCH – In order to fully understand animals behavior, it is necessary to study them in their natural environment. That’s the idea behind the robotic zebra fish developed by a team of U.S. and Italian scientists. The 6-inch robot mimics its live model both in appearance and in its tail movement; experiments showed that zebra fish were attracted to the robot when it moved, provided that they could see the motion — despite the fact that the robot is six times larger than the fish.
SEARCH OPERATION – When cockroaches or geckos feel threatened, they often jump off a platform at full speed — but instead of falling to the ground, they catch hold of the platform’s edge with their hind legs, swing like a pendulum, and escape on the underside.
The U.S.-designed DASH robot can swing under a ledge in the same way; it’s the first crucial step in developing robots that can move in any type of environment — a prerequisite to building a microrobot that could be used to find people in disaster areas.
FRONT-RUNNER – With its long, light legs, an ostrich can run at a speed beyond 40 mph, covering long distances without consuming much energy. The gangly bird has thus inspired U.S. scientists to develop a robot that moves in the same efficient way.
So far, they have designed a pair of legs that propel the FastRunner robot forward at a speed of 22 mph. The research is financed by the U.S. Department of Defense, which likely intends to use the robot in combat. The scientists also think that the ostrich robot could come in handy in natural disasters, where mobile help is needed fast.
BigDog Robotic Dog
PACK ANIMAL – Its 1-cylinder engine howls and roars, but the four legs of the BigDog robot manage to stagger up the muddy slope. Its name comes from the fact that it’s about the same size as a large dog, but, at 240 pounds, it is much heavier.
BigDog is around 3 feet tall and 3 feet long, and it can walk, run and climb while carrying a load of up to 340 pounds. The U.S. military expects to use the robot as a packanimal, enabling BigDog to carry equipment in environments where vehicles can’t maneuver.
A computer attached to 50 sensors helps the robot move, maintain its balance and find its way. The computer and sensors also can help BigDog recover if it is pushed off course or loses its footing.
The 15 hp engine powers a hydraulic system that operates the legs, which were developed based on engineers’ observations of how large mammals move their legs. The robot’s maximum speed is just over 4 mph, and it can cover more than 12 miles on a single charge of its battery.
Currently, BigDog must be operated via remote control, but a new version is expected to require less human handling. A newly introduced prototype, which is built more like a donkey, is quieter and also boasts technology that enables it to find its way on its own or follow behind a soldier.