TaubesI - Science Taubes 288(5463 80 09:49:53-0500 JOSEPH...

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Science -- Taubes 288 (5463): 80 2002-11-14 09:49:53 -0500 Page 1 JOSEPH AYERS | Change Password | Change User Info | CiteTrack Alerts | Subscription Help | Sign Out Biologists and Engineers Create a New Generation of Robots That Imitate Life Gary Taubes As they learn to walk, crawl, and y, biologically inspired robots advance both robotics and scientists' understanding of how animals move The robots developed at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland may have unimaginative names--Robot One, Robot Two, and Robot Three--but they make up for it in looks. "All three so far are six legged," explains Roger Quinn, the mechanical engineer who built them, "but they get more and more like an insect." To be speci c, they get more and more like a cockroach. The legs of Robot One, for instance, emerge from directly beneath its balsa-wood body and are distributed in the simplest possible hexagon. Robot Two adopts a sprawl posture, with the legs, cockroachlike, on the outside of the body. The legs of Robot Three are specialized to look and act like cockroach legs--small, mobile front legs for grooming and exploring the environment; medium-sized middle legs; and big, powerful rear legs for running and jumping. This biological mimicry gives Robot Three the general gestalt of the urban dweller's worst nightmare: a 14-kilogram, bread-box-sized creation that not only looks like a cockroach but promises to walk, run, and jump like a cockroach. The only feature that's obviously not inspired by biology is the tether that supplies power to the pneumatic air compressors which serve as muscles. This tether means Robot Three cannot move about on its own. But Robot Four--which will also be modeled after a cockroach, says Quinn, "only more so"--will carry its power supply with it. It "will be able to run around the campus," no doubt to the delight of Case Western students and faculty. The Case Western robots are among the vanguard of a new army of biologically inspired robots emerging from laboratories throughout the world. Indeed, a revolution seems to be going on in robotics, fueled by new insights and generous nancial support from the Defense Department--in particular, from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the O ce of Naval Research (ONR), which together are pumping tens of millions of dollars into the eld. This largesse is promoting a union between engineers and biologists, and is spawning a new generation of swimming, ying, and crawling robotic o±spring. Alan Rudolph, manager of DARPA's 2-year-old controlled biological and biomimetic systems program, says his goal is to create robots that can go where humans either can't go or where it's not safe to send them, such as the surfaces of other planets, the bowels of a burning building, or the risky con nes of a mine eld or a battle eld. The idea, he says, is to take inspiration from the
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This note was uploaded on 04/21/2008 for the course BIO 101 taught by Professor Pott-santone during the Spring '08 term at Northeastern.

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TaubesI - Science Taubes 288(5463 80 09:49:53-0500 JOSEPH...

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