While Artificial Intelligence starts to show signs of a ‘mind of its own,’ it’s not a shock they are beginning to replicate some of our best moves. When inventors conjure up new ways for robots to maneuver, they base a lot of their designs on how humans and animals have physically adapted to terra firma over the ages.
Owing their Animation to Animals
“Almost any animal you can imagine has been used as inspiration for robots,” says Aaron Johnson, a professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. “That’s because animals — including humans — are good at doing things that roboticists would like their machines to do, like picking things up, jumping or maneuvering over rubble.”
Robots have been engineered to imitate the dash of a cheetah, the dexterousness of an opossum’s tail and the manipulative grasp of a human's or monkey's grip.
“Rather than try to mimic exactly the same mechanism and behaviors of animals, we try to understand the principles of how the animal does what it does successfully, and apply that to a new [robotic] system,” said Johnson.
Festo, the German robotics company designed a robotic arm inspired by the movements and suction of an octopus tentacle. The robot itself is a soft, silicon structure that can be controlled with compressed air, which allows it to circumnavigate by wrapping itself around objects. A vacuum pulls air through the rows of suction cups on its arm once it grasps something, helping the arm to securely hold objects of varying size and shape while making clinging movements, like an octopus.
Snakebot, when it debuted on NBC’s “Tonight Show” last month, actually crawled up Jimmy Fallon’s leg, similar to the slithering movements of a snake.
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon’s Biorobotics Laboratory engineered this snake-inspired robot, which can slide into places where human — legged or wheeled robots — can’t easily go.
Snakebot has multiple degrees of freedom, allowing it to thread itself easily through pipes or holes in a fence. Researchers studied how snakes moved in horizontal waves to propel themselves forward, and subsequently built the snake robot to replicate those movements.
Cassie, the Bipedal Flightless Robot
Earlier this year, a team from Oregon State University produced a video of Cassie, their bipedal robot that imitates the gait of the flightless ostrich. Using this bird for inspiration, the researchers created a robot that doesn’t topple over as easily as some of those bipedal robots' walk, that resembles a human’s stride.
Cassie’s inventors have spun out a startup called Agility Robotics, which says it one day hopes to see their robot deliver packages to people’s doorsteps. Now, that’s a great idea for Jeff Bezo’s company. Couldn’t you just envision in the foreseeable future, a knock on your front door with your favorite ostrich appearing to deliver you— your latest order from Amazon?