Nature Knows Best

Article By: Lucas Ramos

Illustration By: Ria Golovakova

Most people consider bugs as annoying pests that should be exterminated. However, there does seem to be more use to them, then just being a part of the food chain. Scientists nowadays are finding inspiration in these critters by constructing miniature robots based on similar designs in nature, such as by replicating how insects see and how they flap their wings.

There are many problems that researchers now face in constructing these tiny robots, as their minuscule size has caused stabilising and controlling them to be difficult tasks. However, if nature has had thousands of years to evolve and perfect the designs of insects, why not replicate? As Yigit Menguc, a postdoctoral candidate at the Harvard lab, says, “biology solves problems in a different way, specifically through evolution”. Scientists are now trying to develop sensors inspired by insects’ vision and wing system, which has been known to be resilient to gusts of wind and turbulence. Sean Humbert, a professor at the Harvard Microrobotics Lab, says, “We’re trying to understand why nature has found and is using that solution, and we’re trying to understand the benefits of that and whether or not we can scale that down to systems of that size”.

While insects are often the go-to natural examples for these microrobots, scientists are also interested in replicating organisms that can both swim and crawl. If this research can yield fruitful results, it would make it easier to make observations of hard-to-reach environments, whether military operations or disaster sites. Bugs may be annoying, but one day their design could be crucial to saving numerous lives.

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