biological life science

How Termites Build Complex Homes Without a Master Plan

by Charles Q. Choi, Inside Science

Termites are tiny insects, but they are capable of moving tons of soil to build giant nests. Now scientists are discovering simple rules these insect architects might follow that could help explain how they build complex homes without a master plan.

Such research could lead to robot swarms that can organize to assemble intricate structures. These findings could also help decipher the rules governing complex systems ranging from blood vessels to neural networks.

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Phases of Reproduction, 12"x12", oil and ink on wood.

This piece, conceptualized during my recent artist residency in Maine, marks a transition into the Sacred Illustration Phase. This new body of work originates with sacred geometry and is then infused with organic form.


Making Legs For Future Robotic Animal Assistants

University of South Florida computer engineer Luther Palmer is working on one of the big problems in robotics–creating legs that can move over all different types of terrain that a machine would find out in the real world. His team at the Biomorphic Robotics Lab is doing intensive computer modeling and taking tips from horses and humans on agile locomotion.

The team’s vision, like many other roboticists, is to imbue the best movement ideas developed through evolution into their machines. Palmer writes on his lab’s website that in the future, “robotic canines will gallop up stairs and over collapsed beams in burning buildings, locating occupants for rescue personnel.”

He also sees a time of robotic horses to carry heavy loads, cockroaches to conduct surreptitious surveillance and gophers to prepare alien worlds for human habitation. 

See the National Science Foundation video  and one for Palmer’s RecoRoach below.

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We’re as enamored as every other nerd with Back to the Future Day lists of unrealized tech the classic movie promised, but we’ve opted instead to bring you gifs of jumping crickets.

These aren’t just any jumping crickets, mind you. These agile and acrobatic athletes are spider crickets, whose beefy hind legs can propel them more than 60 times their body length through the air. Even after a huge jump, the animals can amazingly stick the landing, returning to earth feet-first and then going on their way. 

A Johns Hopkins University mechanical engineer and his students have spent the better part of a year studying how the crickets launch and stay stable in air. The hope is that the insects could lead to better designs for robots that need to scramble over rough, uneven terrain during search-and-rescue operations. See a video and learn more below.

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Geckos Go To Market

Geckos, the lizards whose amazing toes let them adhere to almost any surface, may just be the poster animals for innovation in 2015. Everywhere you look, the little creatures are inspiring engineers and materials scientists to push the envelope on new adhesives and coatings.

Earlier this year, Stanford showed off a robot that could pull 100 times its own weight using gecko physics. NASA has also announced it will use robots with feet like the lizard’s to crawl around the outside of the International Space Station for inspection and repair. There’s even a system being developed to let people strap on foot and hand pads to be like Spider-Man.

Now a Carnegie Mellon University spinoff company called nanoGriptech has announced that it is launching the first commercially available gecko-inspired adhesive into the market. The company says their dry coating can be used in manufacturing, medical settings, in safety and defense applications and even for better soccer goalkeeper’s gloves. 

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