Skip to main content

Imitating Nature Through Robotics

by Claire Watry, Terra Linda HS

What do Olympic swimwear, Velcro, and office buildings all have in common? They are all inspired by nature and created through the process of biomimicry. According to the Biomimicry Institute, biomimicry is “a new discipline that studies nature's best ideas and then imitates these designs and processes to solve human problems”. The high-tech swimsuits worn by Olympic swimmers (before they were banned from competition) to be able to swim faster are based off of shark skin. Velcro is a hook-and-loop product created by Swiss engineer George de Mestral based on a burr. Termite dens serve as the inspiration for office buildings because of the ability of their cooling chimneys and tunnels to maintain a constant internal temperature.

Meet Terra Linda High School grad Ian Krase, a junior at University of California, Berkeley studying mechanical engineering who will be presenting at the upcoming Marin Science Seminar. In his presentation Bioinspiration: Bird-bots and Bug-bots at Berkeley, Ian will discuss how robots are developed through the process of biomimicry. In college, Ian joined the Fearing Lab, a group that works to create small, efficient robots by mimicking nature. Ian’s explanation of the Fearing Lab is “in university research, each professor runs a lab, with several graduate students who are working on their PhDs or Masters degrees. Each student has a project, and the whole lab has a unifying theme with its own laboratory space and shared resources. Fearing Lab is Professor Fearing's lab, and is focused on biomimicry and small-scale robotics.” The interview below shows how Ian became interested in robotics, what kind of work is done in the Fearing Lab, and advice on how to become involved in robotics.

What sparked your interest in robots?
I've been interested in mechanical things for as long as I remember, and robots are a developing field with some of the most interesting open questions. While I tried building a robot in junior high on a whim, my current interest began when I saw some robotics labs while visiting colleges. 
What past project are you most proud of?
Probably the work I did on BOLT (Bipedal Ornithopter for Locomotion Transitioning), a hybrid running and flying robot. I designed a carbon fiber frame for it to allow it to steer. My work on flight evolution was also pretty cool, but the part I actually worked on didn't end up panning out very well. 

Read more about BOLT here
What project are you currently working on?
Currently, I'm working on an upgraded ornithopter and on a project to study the evolution of flight in birds by building robotic models of extinct birds and test-flying them. 
What lessons have you learned from mimicking nature?
Natural systems are incredibly complicated, even the ones that seem simple. You need a LOT of iterations. And there is almost always a reason for everything -- you have to look a long way for something you can actually change. Also, natural systems seem to be incredibly strong and damage resistant. It's actually a little creepy. 
What do you see as the future/potential of biomimicry? 
We can expect some much more efficient equipment, especially small UAVs. I also expect to see prosthetics to get much better, although Fearing Lab doesn't work on things of that scale. I wouldn't be surprised to see a lot of equipment replacing motors or manual latches with shape-shifting actuators. 

How can students learn more about and get involved with robotics and biomimicry?

Robotics is pretty popular, and easy to get into -- you can pick up a Lego robotics set or use an Arduino and a simple driving base. On the other hand, if you want to go Fearing Lab style, you'll do better starting with the mechanical parts. (Most of our work is more about mechanical systems and controls than about software). In the last five years there's been an explosion in the availability of cheap and easy to use 3D printers and electronics development kits. You might want to join a hackerspace -- these often have classes or workshops in electronics and other subjects. If you want to get your hands on a Fearing Lab project, you can check out Dash Robotics. And there is also a project to make gecko tape in a school chemistry lab environment on the Fearing Lab website.

Gecko Tape
For more information: Gecko Tape Activity
As far as college goes, you'll probably want to go to a research institution for mechanical, electrical, or bioengineering. Fearing Lab at UC Berkeley, the Poly-Pedal lab at Berkeley, the Biorobotics Lab at Case Western Reserve University, and the Biomimetics and Dexterous Manipulation lab at Stanford are all biomimetic robotics labs. General robotics labs are quite common at universities with engineering research. You should also look at joining TL's FIRST Robotics team. 

For more information about the Biomimetic Millisystems Lab click here

Learn more about biomimicry in engineering on NOVA's Making Stuff: Wilder. You can watch it online here

Learn more about robotics and biomimicry at BioinspirationBird-bots and Bug-bots at Berkeley" with Ian Krase, TLHS grad and junior at UC Berkeley on Wednesday, October 30th, 2013, 7:30 – 8:30 pm, Terra Linda High School, San Rafael, Room 207


Claire Watry
Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Bacteria, Botulism, and Beauty

--> By Talya Klinger, MSS Intern
What do foodborne illnesses, neck dystonia treatments, and celebrities’ beauty regimens have in common? Clostridium botulinum, baratii, and other species of Clostridium bacteria produce all of the above and more. These seemingly innocuous, rod-shaped bacteria, commonly found in soil and in the intestinal tracts of fish and mammals, produce one of the most deadly biological substances: botulinum toxin, a neurotoxin that intercepts neurotransmitters and paralyzes muscles in the disease known as botulism. Nonetheless, botulinum toxin isn’t all bad: this chemical not only protects the bacteria from intense heat and high acidity, but it makes for an effective treatment for medical conditions as wide-ranging as muscle spasms, chronic migraines, and, yes, wrinkles. 

Clostridium botulinum and similar bacteria can make their way into the human body in a number of ways. Wounds infected with Clostridium botulinum or spores ingested by infants can lead to …

An Interview With Diara Spain, Ph.D

By Rachael Metzger, MSS Intern

Ocean acidification is an issue becoming apparent in the effects on both sea creatures and humans. Diara Spain, the Associate Professor of Biology at Dominican University, came to Marin Science Seminar to talk to us about her studies in marine invertebrates and the damage ocean acidification is causing them. 

To learn more about Diara Spain and what inspired her studies we conducted an interview:

1. How did you get interested in biology? Is there a time, event, 
or person in your life that inspired you to pursue the study? I've always been interested in biology, really science in general. I grew up in rural North Carolina and as a kid it was expected that you'd spend most of your free time outside playing with your friends and pets.  One thing that sparked my interest in marine organisms were the summer vacations at the undeveloped beaches in North Carolina. 
2. Why did you specifically decide to focus on functional morphology, locomotion in echinode…

Invention in Medicine this Wed. 10/26/16

Marin Science Seminar for Teens & Community Presents Invention in Medicine How Medical Devices get Invented and Go to Market with Art Wallace MD PhD of UCSF & VAMC SF
Wednesday, October 26, 2016 7:30 - 8:30 pm Terra Linda High School, Room 207 320 Nova Albion, San Rafael, CA 94903 

Art Wallace started out in experimental surgery and radiology studying imaging of the heart using CT
scanners. He has worked on a number of devices that originally were built for experimental studies that evolved into clinically useful devices including a cardiac output monitor, the off pump CABG, off pump aneurysm surgery, electronic sedation, and a selective coronary vasodialtor. Dr. Wallace will explain his experiences with the inventive process using examples from both device design and drug development. There will be a brief discussion of the importance of intellectual property, patents, venture capital, FDA approval, and business development in completing the invention process. There will …