Six robots inspired by real-life animals

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Evolution has already done the heavy lifting. Many scientific and engineering developments were lifted right out of nature, but none more so than robots built to act like real-life animals.Biomimicry is the term for innovations like these, which draw inspiration from the power of nature to solve the toughest human problems. Robots can take on some pretty unlikely tasks, from pollinating flowers as bee populations decline to detecting pollution in waterways. Other robots are designed purely for fun, like this 12-legged robot that walks like a crab and is powered by the sun.

Tiny flying Robobees back up the bees

It’s no secret that bee populations have been struggling in recent years as devastating die-offs have left their numbers in steep decline. A team of scientists at Harvard and Northeastern Universities stepped in to create a backup plan: a swarm of miniature “robobees” that can pollinate flowers if real bees disappear. After years of research, the team designed smart little robot bees that can act just like the real thing, and may even be able to work together in a robotic hive.

12-legged crab-bot runs on solar power

From the mind of welder Scott Parenteau came the Walking Pod, an enormous geodesic robot with 12 legs that walks like a crab. A wind turbine and solar panels generate all the electricity needed to power the robot, which debuted at San Francisco’s Maker Faire a few years back. Although it’s an incredible work of art and a lot of fun to watch, the giant robot weighs in at a whopping 1,800 pounds and moves much slower than a real crab, topping out at just .02 miles per hour.

Jellyfish drone flies with flapping wings

Researchers at New York University’s Applied Math Lab set out to create an ultra lightweight self-propelled drone that wouldn’t require much energy. Bird-like designs are the most logical choice, but experiments suggested that a jellyfish-like design with four flapping fins was more successful. The result is a unique robot inspired by the sea, but destined for the sky. When the design was developed, no specific applications were planned but a tiny flapping drone like this could be used to conquer a range of different tasks, including air quality monitoring and and traffic surveillance.

Nano-hummingbird has real bird movements

Several years ago, DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) created a challenge for innovators to produce a remote-controlled Nano Air Vehicle that can fly, hover, move forward and backward. Based on that description, it sounds like an awful lot like they wanted a mechanical hummingbird, so that’s what AeroVironment created. The robotic bird can fly forward at 11 miles per hour and can resist the side swipe of a 5-mph wind gust, just like its feathery role model. This one doesn’t have to stop every five minutes to refuel on sugary nectar, though.

MIT’s robot cheetah may someday be as fast as the real thing

Scientists at MIT are always inventing crazy things, and this battery-powered robotic cheetah is high on the list. Created to run and jump just like its wild counterpart, the cheetah bot is a masterpiece of mechanical engineering. Carefully programmed algorithms help the robot twist and leap at high speeds, the same way wild cheetahs do on the savannas of Africa. The robotic version can only run for 15 minutes before running out of juice, but real-life cheetahs are sprinters too, so it’s just another thing the two cats have in common.

Robo-Fish can detect water pollution

Around the world, polluted waters are killing fish and other sea creatures. Figuring out how to detect pollution early is half the battle, but sometimes conditions are so poor that human divers don’t really want to take a dip. What better solution than a pollution-sniffing robotic fish? Designed by Europe-based BMT Group, the swimming Robo-Fish collects data on water contamination and sends it back up to the surface, protecting divers from exposure to pollutants. The 1.5-meter-long underwater robot works to detect fuel leaks from ships inside a harbor, but it’s easy to imagine how a mechanical fish could really make a difference when it comes to protecting the world’s oceans.

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