Myongji University Microsystems Laboratory Directed by Prof. Sang Kug Chung

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2013.08.19 (16:25:30)

Building a better robot sometimes means looking outside the shop for inspiration. Borrowing from the characteristics and abilities of insects, birds, fish and mammals, scientists and engineers have designed robots that can swim, jump, snuggle, and steal books.

Salamandra robotica II

Inspiration: Salamander

Bright yellow and lithe, this robot salamander easily navigates both land and water – and can keep going, even if it loses a few body parts. Developed by the Biorobotics Laboratory at Switzerland's EPFL, Salamandra can scuttle over sand, then wind sinuously through a pool of water. Or a lake, to the amusement of swans (skip to 0:40 in linked video).

But rather than being avian entertainment, Salamandra's primary purpose is to help scientists understand how the brain controls locomotion.

Video: Kostas Karakasiliotis, Biorobotics Laboratory, EPFL


2013.08.19 (16:51:53)
Inspiration: Flies 

What’s Cool About It: Tiniest robotic insects built so far.
A swarm of tiny robotic insects, each not much larger than a penny, has been unleashed by scientists at Harvard University. Described today in Science, the RoboBees each weigh 80 milligrams, have a wingspan of 3 centimeters, and flap their wings 120 times each second.

Like real flies, these robotic insects can hover and perform (somewhat) agile flight maneuvers. Unlike real flies, the robots’ wings are powered by a piezoelectronic activator – a type of ceramic strip that expands and contracts when electric current is applied. Researchers developed the piezoelectronic motor because the RoboBees are too small for conventional power sources and too large for microelectromechanical ones.

Though the bees are still remotely controlled, the team is working on developing a tiny bee-brain that will guide the flying insects in their future adventures – some of which may include crop pollination, search-and-rescue operations, and environmental monitoring.

Video: Kevin Ma, Pakpong Chirarattananon

2013.08.19 (16:55:00)
Inspiration: Snakes. Evil snakes.

What's Terrifying About It: It strangles on impact.
If you threw this robot snake at someone's head, it would coil around their neck and strangle them on impact.

That's pretty bad-ass. That's not the only thing these robot-snakes can do, though. Developed by a team at Carnegie Mellon University, the SnakeBots can climb trees (and your leg), slither through pipes, swim, sidewind, corkscrew and coil – on a variety of terrains. Their versatility makes these snakes – with names like "Frostbite," "Spooky Snake," and "Molly" – ideal for investigating hard-to-reach places like caves, or the lower floors of a collapsed building.

Video: CMUBiorobotics/YouTube

2013.08.19 (17:04:47)
Bot Pack
Inspiration: Dogs, and a mule.

What's Terrifying About It: Listening, following, cinder block-chucking.
In an earlier incarnation, headless BigDog the RoboMule merely stomped around, able to carry 340 pounds over rough terrain, uphill, going 4 miles per hour.

Then Boston Dynamics added a little bit of sinister bling: A fifth arm (head) that can throw stuff. Like, cinder blocks and stuff. How convenient.

But there are more members in the pack. AlphaDog can carry 400 pounds for 20 miles, and can even stand up after lying down. And, the LS3 – more a mule than a dog – can follow voice commands. And you. It's kind of like Siri, except less evil.

Videos: (top) Boston Dynamics/YouTube, (middle) Boston Dynamics/YouTube, (bottom) DARPA/YouTube

2013.08.19 (17:22:18)
Inspiration: Hummingbird

What's Cool About It: Slightly sinister.
Equipped with a video camera, this remote-controlled spybot is an accomplished hummingbird impostor. Agile and weighing about as much as a AA battery, the robot-in-disguise can fly, hover, and maneuver like a real hummingbird. Which is all good, except that hummingbirds aren't found much outside the Americas – which means that this DARPA-sponsored creation might stand out in more than a few places.

Developed by AeroVironment. Video: theworacle/YouTube

2013.08.19 (17:24:35)
Inspiration: Human.

What's Terrifying About It: Stair-climbing, treadmilling, push-upping rescue bot.
DARPA has a robot that can climb stairs and run on treadmills. Built by Boston Dynamics, the humanoid looks a bit like a cross between a person and General Grievous.

But it's supposed to help rescue people. A more recent video shows a DARPA-bot scrambling over obstacles and jumping.

We are certain these bots will harness their power for good. Right?

Video: DARPA/YouTube

2013.08.19 (17:28:03)
Inspiration: Bugs with guns.

What's Terrifying About It: They can kill people.
Now you see them, now they kill you. These flying mini-drones, depicted in an animation, are called Micro Air Vehicles. The Air Force has constructed a "micro-aviary" for testing small drones. A swarm of these robot-soldiers could lie in wait for weeks, then spring into action and unleash a chemical attack. With their ability to blend into cityscapes, crawl under windowsills, and navigate hallways, these tiny soldiers pack a lethal punch into a very small amount of space.

Video: WTWH Video/Design World

2013.08.19 (17:31:14)
Inspiration: Human

What's Terrifying About It: Everything.
We're not sure what, or why, but this expressive, responsive bit of butt-bot is probably the scariest thing we've seen since bat-eating spiders.

Video: novriki/YouTube

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