Numerous animals and even plants have inspired engineers and scientists to develop technologies that are useful for mankind.
For example, small lizards called geckos have specially adapted feet that make it possible for them to stick; scientists discovered they can do this because their feet are covered in thousands of tiny elastic hairs. An American team took inspiration from geckos and developed gloves that help climbers scale vertical walls that could help soldiers climb over steep walls or high buildings.
Velcro was invented when Swiss engineer George de Mestral went for a walk with his dog in the Alps. When they returned home, he found that his dog was covered in fuzzy, thistle-like seeds called burrs. Mestral studied how these burrs and hairs attached to each other with tiny hooks and invented Velcro to easily fasten things together.
Shark skin remains free of algae and other tiny sea creatures because it is composed of a special pattern called “dentricles” that enables the animal to glide through glide through the water. Scientists at NASA copied the pattern to create a special coating used on sailboats to move faster in the water.
A Japanese birdwatcher working as an engineer for a railroad company looked at the beak of the bird named a kingfisher to solve a problem with high-speed trains. When they first were invented, high-speed trains had a real problem with noise, especially in tunnels. As they drive through, the air pressure builds up in waves and as the nose exits the tunnel there’s a loud noise. But an engineer redesigned the nose to be long and pointy like the kingfisher so the airwaves were gradually released instead.
Now, Israeli engineers who have observed the movements of cockroaches and lizards have developed a high-speed, amphibious robot that swims and runs on top of water at high speeds and crawls on difficult terrain.
It is called AmphiSTAR – part of the family of STAR robots developed at the Ben-Gurion University (BGU) of the Negev in Beersheba. The mechanical design and its control system were presented virtually last week at the IROS (International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems) by Dr. David Zarrouk – director of the bioinspired and medical robotics laboratory in BGU’s department of mechanical engineering, along with graduate student Avi Cohen.
Zarrouk earned his advanced degrees in medical robotics from the faculty of mechanical engineering at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa and did his postdoctoral work on miniature crawling robots at the University of California at Berkeley.
“The AmphiSTAR, which uses a sprawling mechanism inspired by cockroaches, is designed to run on water at high speeds like the basilisk lizard,” said Zarrouk. “We envision that AmphiSTAR can be used for agricultural, search and rescue and excavation applications, where both crawling and swimming are required.”
The palm-size AmphiSTAR, part of the family of STAR robots developed at the lab, is a wheeled robot fitted with four propellers underneath whose axes can be tilted using the sprawl mechanism. The propellers act as wheels over ground and as fins to propel the robot over water while swimming and running on water at high speeds of 1.5 millimeters per second.
Two air tanks enable it to float and transition smoothly between high speeds when hovering on water as deep as 20 centimeters or more to lower-speed swimming, and from crawling to swimming and vice versa. The experimental robot can crawl over gravel, mud, grass and concrete as fast as the original STAR robot and can attain speeds of 3.6 millimeters per second. |Our future research will focus on the scalability of the robot and on underwater swimming,” Zarrouk concluded.