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Note: This article is from Conservation Magazine, the precursor to Anthropocene Magazine. The full 14-year Conservation Magazine archive is now available here.

The Kingdom of Robots

March 14, 2014

Biomimetic robots are coming by land, by air, and by sea



tumbleweed-diagramThere’s a new taxonomy in the making. A fleet of species-inspired machines is rolling, flying, and swimming into hard-to-reach places to monitor CO2, track marine life, and even pollinate crops. The Tumbleweed Robot (above), developed by Israeli industrial designer Shlomi Mir, helps researchers understand and explore solutions to desertification. Propelled by wind, it’s designed to travel autonomously for thousands of kilometers, collecting climate data along its path. A kinetic generator in the center of the bot creates power for the motor and computers. Mir envisions a fleet of hundreds of Tumbleweeds covering vast areas of desert and generating 3-D maps of sand dunes to learn about their movement. Images ©Shlomi Mir



The Batbot, developed by researchers at the Polytechnic University of Madrid, Spain, and Brown University, uses materials that behave like muscles to mimic how a bat changes its wing shape mid-flap. This shape-shifting ability, which birds and insects lack, gives bats high maneuverability with low energy expenditure. Photo ©Automation and Robotics Center (UPM-CSIC)



This tiny flying “jellyfish” is the brainchild of New York University’s Leif Ristroph. The robot, which weighs just two grams, doesn’t flap its wings like an insect. It stays stable in the air without heavy circuitry simply by opening and closing. Ristroph envisions these robots floating about, measuring CO2 levels. Photo ©Leif Ristroph



RoboBees, from the Harvard Microrobotics Lab, are inspired by both bee biology and hive behavior. Weighing in at less than one-tenth of a gram each, the robots are being designed to sense and react to their environments as well as to each other. Possible environmental applications of the swarm include autonomous crop pollination and high-resolution weather and climate mapping. Photo ©Harvard’s Wyss Institute and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences



Salamandra robotica is a rare breed of robot: it’s amphibious. It can swim, crawl, and walk. Scientists at the Swiss Federal Technical University in Lausanne designed the robot to be modular. Each module has its own microcontroller—it can split into pieces and still work. Photo ©Kostas Karakasiliotis, Biorobotics Laboratory, EPFL



Researchers at Virginia Tech are copying the jellyfish’s efficient movement to create a robot that can patrol the seas. Coming in at 5’7″ and 170 pounds, “Cyro” could one day study aquatic life, map the seafloor, and monitor ocean currents. Photo ©Amanda Loman / Virginia Tech



iTuna, built at the Polytechnic University of Madrid, is extremely simple, light, and noiseless—using artificial muscles to move. This enables it to monitor underwater environments without disturbing local fish. Photo ©Automation and Robotics Center (UPM-CSIC)

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