Taking inspiration from nature
Robots need to function in unstructured environmentsRobots have, up until now, been used to great success in structured environments, such as in manufacturing plants and factories, which are highly controlled spaces. The design of robots in manufacturing typically focuses on speed, precision and cost-effectiveness. So, sensors that would allow these robots to observe the world are unnecessary and costly, as are control systems that would make use of such sensors.
Example: On a car production line, each successive car appears precisely at the same point time after time. A robot manipulator does not need a vision control system to locate the car and adjust its own position accordingly. Instead, the robot can repetitively perform the same action ‘blindly’, relying on the accurate positioning of objects in a highly structured, controlled world. Of course, this environment is dangerous to humans because the robots do not expect random events, like a human walking past – indeed, they cannot sense the human and have no programming to avoid one.
Bioinspiration for robotics
- Adaptability – the system can learn to adapt to change.
- Versatility – the system can perform many different types of task.
- Robustness – the system can function correctly, even in the presence of noise, or randomness, and uncertainty.
What biological systems can we use for inspiration?
- Fish have much greater manoeuvrability than typical underwater robots due to their use of fins: this has spurred research into flippers for underwater robots.
- Geckos can climb vertical surfaces, which has inspired the development of Gecko feet for wall climbing robots.
- Rats navigate and hunt in complete darkness, motivating the development of robot rats that rely on tactile sensing from whiskers instead of camera vision.
- Swarms of robots, inspired by the behaviour of ants, flocks of birds and shoals of fish, can work cooperatively together to survive and solve problems that would be challenging for an individual.
Robots of the future will need to operate around humans safely and effectively in uncontrolled, unstructured environments. This step explains why bioinspiration is of interest in robotics for tackling this challenge.Do you think bioinspiration has the potential to significantly impact on robotics?
Robots need to function in unstructured environments
Building a Future with Robots
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