Minesweeping Robot Walks Like A Crab

Before iRobot got in the vacuuming business with its Roomba, the company developed Ariel, a robot that could search for mines in surf zones. Its design was based on the humble crab, with legs that allow it to retain its balance when it encounters choppy water. If the surf topples its body, the legs can reorient themselves so the top of the bot becomes the bottom (and vice versa).

Image: Big Max Power

Sea Mollusk Body Armor

From mimicking crabs to protecting against them, a deep sea-dwelling mollusk’s iron-reinforced shell could inspire the next generation of body armor. True, the materials used by the snail, calcium carbonate and iron, won’t stand up to bullets. But the tri-layer organization, if implemented with better lab-synthesized materials, could be incorporated into protective gear for armed forces and police officers.

Image: Hadi Fooladi

Hummingbird-Based UAV

Unarmed air vehicles (UAVs) are becoming increasingly important in warfare. The company AeroVironment, which makes drones already being used in combat, looked to hummingbirds for one of its latest creations. Whereas the tiny bird hovers by flapping its wings 80 times per second, its carbon fiber-based counterpart flaps at just a quarter that speed but still manages to hover. Equipped with a small camera, the Nano Hummingbird is designed to perform reconnaissance in cities.

Image: peasap

Gecko-inspired Surveillance Bot

The dry adhesion that allows geckos to scale the side of buildings is so amazing, you know engineers would try to recreate it. For instance, one team played off the millions of tiny hairs responsible for the molecular forces that allow the lizards to easily stick and then unstick their feet to surfaces to create Stickybot. The climbing robot, funded by a grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)-funded, could be used for surveillance purposes.

Image: Ben Fredericson

Imitating Caterpillar Defense Mechanism

Certain types of caterpillars, when threatened, can quickly roll into a Q-shape and propel themselves away from danger. Engineers at Tufts University mimicked that ability with their four-inch-long GoQBot, which could be used for surveillance purposes, as well as for environmental monitoring. The DARPA-funded bot performs its ballistic roll trick thanks to alloy coils that have shape memory.

Image: Macropoulos

Octopus Skin Camouflage

The Office of Naval Research is looking to the deep sea for inspiration for the camouflage of the future. “Project Squid Skin” awarded grants to several institutions to leverage the squid and octopus’ ability to hide in plain sight. The key, scientists say, is the presence of light-sensing proteins called opsins on the animals’ skin, which allows them to respond to their environment. The Project seeks to artificially engineer materials that could one day pull off the same trick.

Image: doug.deep

Butterfly Wing Bomb Sensors

When the Morphos butterfly’s wings are exposed to various vapors, the light they reflect shifts to different parts of the color spectrum. DARPA wants to translate that biological response into small, counterterrorism sensors for detecting bombs and chemicals. Each detector, which would be less than half an inch on each side, would specialize in sensing only one particular chemical. An array of different sensors could be used to cover an entire area.

Image: cotinis

Maple Tree Seeds As Nano Air Vehicles

An engineer at Lockheed-Martin transformed his childhood fascination with the spiral of silver maple trees seeds as they fall to the ground into a tiny, remote-controlled air vehicle that can be used on a field of combat. The monocopter performs the seed’s trip in reverse, propelling upwards using a small rocket thruster. With a tiny transponder in its wing, the RoboSeed Nav could be used to relay communications between soldiers during military operations.

Image: zen

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Going To War With Animal-Inspired Tech

The military will look for innovations and advantages anywhere, including the natural world. From using artificial hummingbirds for surveillance to making body armor like snails make their shells, nature is providing inspiration for all sorts of mindblowing defense tech.

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