Scientists and entrepreneurs can’t get enough of the design solutions found in the living world.
Snake-bots: PhysOrg wrote about “Flexible snake armor: Biology could inspire systems in engineering with minimized abrasion.” Snakes slither on all kinds of surfaces; their skin, therefore, is optimized to handle friction. Scientists at Kiel University looked at electron micrographs of snake skin cross-sections and found a gradient of stiff to flexible cells from outside to inside. “A material that has a transition from a stiff outside to a flexible inside can distribute an impacting force over a larger area, therefore decreasing the force on one single point,” a researcher explained. “Materials like this are like a flexible amour.” How could imitating this structure help humans? “Possible application areas can be found in the medical engineering sector, in which friction could for instance be optimized for artificial implants,” the article said. “Furthermore, the propulsion and conveyer technique market could profit from the abrasion minimization findings, since lubrication would have to be implicated less often.” Research on the mechanical properties of snake skin is “extremely new,” the spokesperson said.
Worm-bots: The pulsing action used by earthworms and snails, called peristalsis, has inspired another soft robot named “Meshworm” by its inventors. “Now researchers at MIT, Harvard University and Seoul National University have engineered a soft autonomous robot that moves via peristalsis, crawling across surfaces by contracting segments of its body, much like an earthworm,” a report on Science Daily says. “The robot, made almost entirely of soft materials, is remarkably resilient: Even when stepped upon or bludgeoned with a hammer, the robot is able to inch away, unscathed.” Faced with challenges of building artificial muscles and soft actuators, the team “looked to the earthworm for design guidance.” The article explains how they did it. A softbot using peristalsis would be useful for getting into tight places. Have they thought about just training earthworms?….
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