Over the past few years, many engineers and academics across the globe have been hard at work developing a new breed of robotic device.
These robots look most unlike their more traditional industrial cousins that have already become so familiar on industrial production lines, where they are helping manufacturers to build everything from stacks of waffles to automobiles.
Instead, they sport much more of a biomimetic bent – their ability to effectively and efficiently carry out their tasks is due to the fact that their inventors have mimicked the characteristics of animals in the real world − be they fish, birds or dogs.
Indeed, the development of such lifelike robots has now become so pervasive that even designers who are building devices without such copycat features are personalising their robots with animal names to infer that they might have done the same − even if they have not!
This first generation of such biomimetic robots certainly offers some key advantages over their less lifelike predecessors – by copying their living cousins, the designers of such robots have improved their ability to swim, fly, or even run over rough terrain.
But this is only the beginning of the biomimetic revolution. In the future, we can expect to see many more of these systems optimised with nature in mind. And they won’t just be popping up in the field of robotics either.
That’s right. Another area that such devices make such an impact will be in the field of renewable energy. After all, one look at a conventional wind, sea or nuclear power plant and it becomes obvious that these are very much man-made structures that simply exploit physical principles, rather than copy anything natural.
But all of that is set to change, as researchers develop devices and systems that exploit the way that plants and animals convert sunlight and food into energy at much high efficiencies than those older mechanical structures.
In medicine, somewhat smaller biomimetic systems will play an important role as designers develop biologically engineered versions of the body’s natural defence systems that can be injected to the bloodstream to cure any manner of diseases.
And it won’t end there either. Perhaps there’s also a future for biomimetics in the world of civil engineering. One day − who knows − civil engineers might unveil apartment buildings modelled on the structure of ants’ nests or bees’ hives – structures that have already been proven to withstand the rigours of extreme environmental conditions.
Ultimately, however, the goal of any biomimetic engineer worth his salt will be to create a robotic version of a human being − the result being that each of us may one day have a personal helper to assist with the daily chores.
But don’t expect this robotic helper to look anything like the governor of California. If my guess is anything to go by, the first such android may look much more like a 14-year-old Japanese schoolgirl!
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