I’m not totally thrilled with robotic development primarily because I’ve heard about and seen the movies where they take over and disregard their human operators. However, the world doesn’t listen to me and the research and development of such creatures continues.
I found an article about Gimball over at Science Daily that intrigued me despite my reservations about robotics. Researchers Przemyslaw Mariusz Kornatowski and Adrien Briod have created a navigation system for this little guy based on bug behavior.
Briod explains it this way, “Flying insects handle collisions quite well. For them, shocks aren’t really accidents, because they’re designed to bounce back from them. This is the direction we decided to take in our research.”
Let’s back up a minute. One of the biggest difficulties for robot developers is how to get their creations to move around without damaging themselves. Prior to the bug strategy, developers loaded their protégées with sensors designed to help the robots avoid crashing into objects. Apparently this makes it harder to develop robots, not to mention makes them heavier.
What these two researchers created was a lightweight, highly agile robot that crashes and careens around its environment without harming itself. The beauty of this strategy is that robots developed using bug tactics are able to stay on a straight course, as compared to their sensory overloaded brethren.
Gimball weighs only 370 grams/13.5 ounces (considered ultra-lightweight) and is shaped like a sphere. It is also well protected from its environment so that the crashes and collisions it undergoes don’t harm in the internal operation of the unit.
Also key is the sophisticated stabilization program that it has. When it crashes into something, it doesn’t lose its balance and then get off course. That’s much like insects who, when they careen into something, stabilize and move on, around the object.
I find this fascinating on several levels. I think the first is that this is a wonderful example of mankind learning from our environment and applying new techniques to our creations. Second, how awesome is nature? I never knew that about bugs, and apart from groaning every time a poor butterfly smashed into my windshield, I never thought much about how bugs navigate.
Learning how these two seemingly unrelated events are converging and joining to make something bigger and better is kind of exciting. Exciting as long as they stay in the realm of R2-D2 and C-3PO, and not the Borg!
What do you think?