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Many robotics researchers are now taking inspiration from nature. It’s not only the brains of the animals they’re copying but also their shapes and their behaviour in unpredictable situations. Swiss researchers developed a model of a salamander’s spinal cord and created a similar system to control the movement of their salamander robot. It receives electrical signals from a wireless laptop that can tell it to switch from swimming to walking to change speed or direction. Nature helped these scientists but it turns out their robot also helped neurobiologists understand four-legged locomotion. This is Wallbot, a tiny robot that sticks to smooth surfaces just like a gecko does. Geckos have tiny fibers on their feet and researchers at Carnegie-Mellon made their own dry adhesive fibers.


It could help Wallbot go out and investigate some sticky situations. The same team has created a robot that moves like a water strider. It is made out of thin pieces of metal that bend when electricity from a power supply run through them. Since a water strider is so light it can use the surface tension of water to help it move, pushing down enough to make it stand but not enough to break the surface. Here’s a video showing robots and cockroaches interacting. Belgian researchers found that robots that smelled like cockroaches were able to control the mixed group’s choice of shelter. Cockroaches select a hideout based on how dark it is and what their fellow cockroaches are choosing.

The robots were programmed to prefer lighter hideouts and were able to sway the cockroaches in the group. Here’s another group but this one is made entirely out of robots. MTRAN is a robot made of many modules that can move individually and communicate with each other to change shape. Its computer uses genetic algorithms to generate thousands of patterns of motion and choose the best one for its purpose. A more advanced version of the robot can detect obstacles on its own using a camera like an eye.

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