Robots like this? That’s nuts.
If mechanical engineer David Hu ruled the world, it would be crawling with robots based on mosquitoes, snakes, and Mexican jumping beans. Hu’s lab studies animal locomotion, but the research goes beyond the traditional slow-motion footage of creatures running. Instead, Hu examines topics like how water striders and rafts of ants stay afloat on water’s surface, the mechanics of giant pumpkins collapsing into amorphous blobs under their own weight, how snakes’ scales affect their slither, the optimal way for furry animals to shake off water, and how mosquitoes survive collisions with comparatively huge raindrops. His group has even analyzed the motion of Mexican jumping beans, which is due not to some inherent magic in the “beans,” but rather to temperature-sensing moth larvae in hollow seeds. (When the ground heats up, the larvae sense the change in temperature and make their seedy houses twitch into rolling movements towards cooler, shadier ground.) These topics are weird and interesting enough to have garnered Hu’s work plenty of media coverage. But when it comes to earning funding, “weird and interesting” doesn’t always cut it. What’s the practical purpose of this research? Instead of shrugging and saying, “Now we know how mosquitoes struggle out from water droplets 50 times their size! That’s pretty cool!” Hu has come up with a standard one-size-fits-all application. At the end of his papers, he adds that whatever wacky phenomenon he studied could inspire…robots! Read More