FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

The Shape of Robotics to Come

When we think of robots, we think of humanoid forms, from the mechanical men in Forbidden Planet and The Day the Earth Stood Still to Star Wars' C3PO. However, today's robot builders are looking to other life forms for inspiration.

An article in the IEEE's Computer magazine highlights "biomimetic robots," which mimic living creatures. So far, the most promising life forms to imitate have been not humans, but bugs. Insects are physically simple and stable forms, well adapted to mechanization, and are "tried and true" over billions of years. Engineers have found that by adopting insect forms, they can actually reduce the amount of computing power needed to run their robots.

Robots shaped like cockroaches and lobsters can negotiate rough terrain, and can incorporate sensors that imitate touch. Cricket-shaped robots can hop as well. Georgia Tech is developing the "Entomopter," a flying robot that acts, but doesn't look like, a butterfly.

Engineers are also working to equip these robots with rudementary nervous systems and "swarming" characteristics. By keeping in constant contact with one another, robot "swarms" can stay as a group and warn each other of danger.

Case Western Reserve University has even formed its own Biologically Inspired Robotics Lab, devoted to developing these robots. Among potential customers of these critters are NASA and the U.S. military, both of whom are interested in developing autonomous devices capable of working under adverse conditions and negotiating rough terrain.

Case Western's cockroach-like Robot III

Source: Roland Piquepaille's Technology Trends