Naturally inspired

The members of the kingdom Animalia walk, run and swim in different environments. Some can even walk on water. Researchers and military officials would love to have robots at their command that can do the same, so many are now developing robots that take clues from cockroaches, cheetahs, stingrays and more. These roboticists spend a lot of time observing their animal models in action and sometimes even dissect them to see how they're engineered on the inside. Here we round up 10 of the coolest animal-inspired robots and explain how they steal engineering ideas from nature.

Miraculous water-striders

This robot doesn't just walk on water it jumps, too. Inspired by the tiny bugs that glide on the surface of ponds and creeks, the robot can repeatedly leap five and a half inches (14 centimeters) high and 14 inches (35 centimeters) forward. Its secret is feet made of super-water-repellent nickel foam pads. <p> Over the past few years, several labs have worked on creating water strider robots, which researchers say could monitor water quality and perform spying missions.

Leaping lizards

It's all business in the front, but a party in the back. This little robot car got its tail from a small African lizard called the red-headed agama. Researched studied how the agamas used their tails to maintain balance while jumping, then added a tail to a toy car equipped with a gyroscope to sense its pitch. Tailed cars kept their balance better when driving off a small ramp than cars without tails. Adding tails to other robots that have to navigate uneven terrain may help them stay balanced, the researchers concluded.

Speedy spots

Just as the cheetah is the fastest animal on land, a cheetah-inspired robot is the fastest automaton in the lab. The robot ran at 18 miles per hour (29 kilometers per hour) in a video the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency posted March 5, breaking a world record. The robot's flexible back bends and unbends like a cheetah's as it runs. <p> DARPA is working on this and other fast-running robots in hopes of developing a robot that can walk anywhere human soldiers do.

Beep beep

DARPA is also developing this two-legged running robot researchers hope will reach speeds of 20 miles per hour (32 kilometers per hour). Its springy legs are modeled after ostriches' running motion. The biology-inspired design helps the robot use energy efficiently and control its legs without using too much computing power. The robot ostrich's creators, a group of researchers at the Florida Institute for Human & Machine Cognition, hope to have a machine up and running by 2013, as <a href= http://www.innovationnewsdaily.com/685-velociraptor-ostrich-running-robot.html>InnovationNewsDaily previously reported</a>.

On silent, underwater wings

If you've ever watched a stingray glide by in an aquarium tank, you'll understand why the U.S. military might want to re-create its graceful movement. Rays' swimming is quiet and uses little energy, making it wellsuited to intelligence missions, as <a href= http://www.innovationnewsdaily.com/1456-mantabot-robot-fish-navy.html>InnovationNewsDaily previously reported</a>. This robot, called the Mantaray, is patterned after the cow-nosed ray, a relative of manta rays and stingrays.

Robot drifter

Compared to a stingray, a jellyfish doesn't seem like a very forbidding military tool. Yet jellyfish are efficient swimmers and are shaped to carry heavy loads, say the Robojelly's creators, Office of Naval Research-funded engineers at Virginia Tech and the University of Texas at Dallas. Another benefit of jellyfish: They have few natural predators, making them less likely to get snapped up by predators in the ocean.

Cockroach transformations

The University of California at Berkeley's DASH (Dynamic Autonomous Sprawled Hexapod) robot has undergone several revisions to give it some of the abilities of cockroaches. In June 2012, DASH's creators gave its back legs Velcro hooks to mimic the hooks cockroaches use to swing themselves under ledges suddenly, making them seem to disappear when being chased by predators. In November 2011, another version of DASH received a pair of wings. These buggy additions help make DASH a more agile, dexterous robot able to scurry over varied terrain.

A leader of fish

This pale stranger is made not to mimic a fish exactly in looks, but in movement. When the robot flaps its tail at just the right speed, researchers found, real live fish of the species <i>Notemigonus crysoleucas</i> will follow the robot in a school. The fish robot's creators, two researchers at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University, used the robot to study fish schooling. The robot may also help lead live fish away from oil spills, underwater turbines and other dangers, they said.

Sticky-footing around

Several research labs are making robots with feet, treads and other appendages covered in materials modeled after gecko feet. Geckos' feet are covered in small ridges, which are furred with tiny hairs and further split into microscopic branches that help geckos stick to any rock, glass wall or other surface they try to climb. Researchers interested in similarly climbing robots have made everything from <a href=http://bdml.stanford.edu/twiki/bin/view/Rise/StickyBot>lizard robots</a> to <a href=http://blogs.nature.com/news/2011/11/gecko_robot_walks_up_walls_1.html?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+news%2Frss%2Fnewsblog+%28News+Blog+-+Blog+Posts%29>robo-gecko-tanks</a>.

A four-legged friend

This robot dog just took its first walk outside in February 2012. DARPA researchers are developing the LS3 robot to carry gear for soldiers. Although it appears headless, it does have "eyes" sensors that allow it to see and distinguish between trees, rocks and people. A DARPA video of the LS3 at work shows the robot wending around trees and following a researcher around. Next, DARPA plans to add "ears" to the robot, allowing it to hear and respond to commands such as "stop," "sit" and "come here."

10 Animal-Inspired Robots