Australians Build Robots Based on Nature's Designs

20 January 2002
Posted by Chris Smith.

Australian scientists are using a freshwater crayfish, known as the Yabby, as their inspiration to help build miniature robots for NASA's exploration of Mars. Platoons of robo-yabbies could soon explore the red planet searching for water or analysing the atmosphere and the planet's crust - tasks that are currently impractical for humans. The copying of natures' best designs for use in robotics is known as biomimetics, but it isn't as easy as merely taking apart an animal or plant and copying what you see. "Evolution doesn't always come up with the best solution from an engineer's perspective," according to Professor Macmillan, one of the researchers. Professor Macmillan has focused his research on the Yabby's powerful tail. "The tail of the Yabby acts like a hinged lever, changing form to act as a sail for steering or a powerful paddle for swimming,". The arrangement of muscles and nerves presents a clever solution to problems associated with the dynamics and control of multi-jointed levers, which could be useful in design of multi-jointed legs for mobility over difficult terrain, or in activities requiring precision lifting and leverage. "By studying invertebrates like the Yabby and its marine relatives, it may be possible to reverse engineer their neurological systems and build miniature, lightweight and autonomous robots capable of performing the range of complex tasks needed to explore Mars and beyond."

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