Yabby Dabby Can Do!

From: Spudboy100@aol.com
Date: Fri Jan 11 2002 - 13:16:06 MST

Source: University Of Melbourne (http://www.unimelb.edu.au/)
Date: Posted 1/11/2002
Crayfish Robots On Mars?

Australian scientists are using a humble indigenous freshwater crayfish,
known as the Yabby, as their inspiration to help build miniature robots for
NASA's exploration of Mars. Platoons of robo-yabbies could soon explore the
red planet searching for water or conducting chemical analysis of the
atmosphere and the planet's crust - tasks that are currently impractical for
humans. University of Melbourne zoologist, Professor David Macmillan and
associates in his Melbourne laboratory and collaborating laboratories
overseas are using the Yabby (Cherax destructor) to help advance research in
the global movement called biomimetics. The movement is a rapidly expanding
area of research that harvests nature's best design ideas for use in
robotics. "Invertebrates such as insects and crustaceans achieve similar
movement and sensory outcomes to humans. For example, finding food and
selection of appropriate mates and nesting sites. Where humans use millions
of neurons to achieve such outcomes, invertebrates do it with thousands.
Where humans use hundreds, invertebrates may use as few as six," he says. "It
is this parsimony, that ability to control complex behaviours with an
amazingly small amount of brain power that attracts scientists from
disciplines including robotics engineering, computer programming, biology,
mathematics and neurology." Advances in computational network modeling, and
electronics have permitted development of a bizarre new class of truly
biomimetic beasts. But it isn't as easy as merely taking apart an animal or
plant and copying what you see. "Evolution doesn't always come up with the
best solution from an engineer's perspective," says Professor Macmillan.
Despite these evolutionary pitfalls, biomimetics has already produced
swimming robots that achieve propulsion by whole body undulations or tail
flapping and robots that walk using multiple jointed legs to mediate
locomotion. Inroads are even being made in flying robots that fly by flapping
mechanical wings. Professor Macmillan has focused his research on the Yabby's
powerful tail, and it has revealed some interesting implications for future
robotic design.


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