In a previous blog post, I designed a robot that I believe could replace the current series of Mars rovers created by NASA. This robot would incorporate many biomechanical aspects from nature, among them:
- Walking/Running: Inspired by the cockroach and its ability to navigate very rough terrain without sacrificing speed.
- Digging: Inspired by the specialized forelimbs of the mole cricket which allow it to burrow.
- Jumping: Inspired by the powerful hind legs of the grasshopper, which allow it to manipulate potential energy and leap tall buildings in a single bound.
Together, these three natural implements would allow my mars rover to more easily and efficiently navigate the foreign terrain of Mars and possibly other planets in the future.
But why stop there? This week we learned about insects and biological sensors. By adding sensors to my robot, I feel it could be made even more efficient and effective. These are the ideas I have:
Vision: The first sensor I would add would be based on the insect eye. Insect eyes consist of hundreds of individual units known as ommatidia. Each ommatidium is able to focus on a particular image and then send that info to the brain to form one whole, coherent image. What this means is the insect eye is able to focus on objects both near and far at the same time and at the same resolution. Furthermore, the compound eye also possesses a 180o viewing angle. These characteristics would make navigation that much more efficient. I would like to add something similar to the insect-eye camera currently being developed by our very own John Rogers (2):
Proprioceptive Sensors: Proprioception is the ability to sense the relative position of a body part and its relation to gravity. Insects can do so in the following ways:
- Hair beds – Small hairs called setae are located where two appendages of an insect meet. When the setae touch the cuticle due to bending of an appendage, a nerve impulse is sent and information regarding bodily position is transmitted.
- Stretch receptors. – These are associated with muscles and are sensitive to such things as gut distension, egg maturation, and muscle fiber stretching. They basically prevent the insect from exploding in many cases.
- Campaniform sensillum
In my opinion, something similar to the setae of insects would be best suited to my Mars rover. It obviously is very important that the robot know its leg position relative to the terrain, so perhaps it would be possible to develop some sort of mechanism mimicking setae that alert the robot to its position periodically.
Echolocation – By bouncing soundwaves off walls and other objects, bats are able to “see” where they’re going. This could prove useful if implemented in my robot.
As far as actually implementing these sensors into a robot, we have quite a ways to go. For the most part we have still been unable to replicate completely many of the structures found in insects. Once we have a better understanding of the mechanisms behind insect sensor modalities we should be able to develop these sensors into a reality.
(1) Mars Rover, Brandon Nelson https://learn.illinois.edu/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=168826
(2) Insect Eye Digital Camera Sees What You Just Did http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2013/05/02/insect-eye-digital-camera-sees-what-you-just-did/
(3) Mechanical Stimulus https://learn.illinois.edu/mod/lesson/view.php?id=195373&pageid=53404