From Vine Robots to Insect Compasses – Technology Inspired by Nature

image provided by pixabay

This post is also available in: עברית (Hebrew)

Sometimes scientists struggling with innovation find the perfect solution right under their noses- in nature. Following is a selection of innovative nature-based technology, provided by Techxplore.

Insect compass

Some insects (ants and bees) use the position of the sun as a reference point to navigate visually based on sunlight intensity and polarization. Researchers replicated these insects’ eye structures to construct a compass capable of estimating the sun’s location in the sky, even on cloudy days.

This innovation solves the issue of common compasses losing track of the Earth’s magnetic due to noise from electronics.

Evripidis Gkanias, researcher at the University of Edinburgh and leader of the study, claims that there is already a functioning prototype of the light-detecting compass, and adds that the technology could easily be transformed into a more compact and lightweight product for wide use.

Water-collecting webs

Researchers developed a fabric inspired by spider webs, which are capable of collecting drinking water from morning mist. The threads were inspired by the feather-legged spider, whose web has intricate knots that easily collect water droplets.

This invention could be crucial in regions suffering from water scarcity. Yongmei Zheng, the study’s co-author, states that once the material can be mass-produced, the water harvested could reach a “considerable scale for real application.”

Fire-fighting vines

A vine-like inflatable robot was developed to “grow” in the direction of light or heat, just like vines that creep up a wall or across a forest floor.

The roughly two-meter-long tubular robot can steer itself using fluid-filled pouches rather than costly electronics and can in time find hot spots and deliver fire suppression agents, according to researchers at the University of California.

The robots are slow and are currently meant to combat smoldering fires, which are a major source of carbon emissions.

Scaly robots

Pangolins are mammals that are covered in reptilian scales and curl up in a ball to protect themselves against predators. Scientists inspired by this animal created a life-saving tiny robot, according to a study published in Nature Communications.

The robot is intended to roll through our digestive tracts before unfurling and delivering medicine or stopping internal bleeding in hard-to-reach parts of the human body.

Lead author Ren Hao Soon was inspired by the pangolin, finding its unique scale structure the perfect combination between a soft material that wouldn’t cause harm inside the human body and the advantages of a hard material that could conduct electricity.

The tiny robots are still in their initial stages, but they could potentially be made for as little as 10 euros each.