Copying someone else’s invention is a crime, but researchers in biomimetics are doing it with impunity and getting away with it.

  1. Leaf power:  “Why come up with new ways to generate clean energy, when we can copy what plants have been doing for millennia?”  That’s what led Daniel Nocera and colleagues at MIT to develop artificial leaves that try to mimic photosynthesis.  According to New Scientist, “His company, Sun Catalytix, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is attempting to commercialise the artificial photosynthesis technology.”  But what if a student said, “Why come up with a new term paper, when I can copy what graduate students already have published online?”
    Science Daily quoted Nocera saying “A practical artificial leaf has been one of the Holy Grails of science for decades.”  His artificial leaf is “made of inexpensive materials that are widely available, works under simple conditions and is highly stable,” the article said.  Sounds like natural leaves have those benefits nailed already.  “In laboratory studies, he showed that an artificial leaf prototype could operate continuously for at least 45 hours without a drop in activity.”  Natural leaves last much longer than that.
    Nocera hopes his plagiarism might power poor third-world homes far from electrical power grids.  “Our goal is to make each home its own power station,” he said.  Unlike plant leaves, though, the invention only splits water into hydrogen and oxygen; it does not make sugar and food.
  2. Bird mimic:  If you see SmartBird flying around, “it’s actually an energy-efficient robot, weighing just 500 grams, that captures the elegance of a bird in flight,” reported New Scientist.  The article includes a video clip of the robot that looks remarkably lifelike, shape, wings and all, though it does not lay eggs, snatch fish out of the sea, or sing; it also needs ground controllers to guide it.  It was made by Festo, a company also guilty of plagiarizing penguins and elephants.
  3. Bee strategy:  Bees and ants survey their surroundings with a search strategy called quorum sensing.  According to PhysOrg, Aron Kisdi, a University of Southampton engineer, proposed using a swarm of 40 to 60 robots on Mars to search like honeybees.  “Bees will leave the nest, gather information, and determine the best new location” by working in swarms.  Kisdi thinks this is a good strategy for robots on Mars.  They would explore caves and other things, then return by the shortest route, like bees do.  Unlike current all-in-one rovers, the robot swarm could survive the loss of individual robots.  The article includes a video clip of Kisdi’s rolling, jumping robot called the Jollbot.
  4. DNA bot:  At the University of Oxford, they’re plagiarizing DNA to build tiny robots.  Live Science caught the plagiarists in action: “The thinking behind scientists’ interest in super-small DNA bots is that in order to replicate some amazing abilities in nature, one must go very small.”  Even more shocking, they are using intelligent design: “‘Information is programmed into the design of the base sequences of the DNA strands,’ [Andrew] Turberfield said.”….

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