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Compass bugs, pangolin robots: when technology is inspired by nature

Compass bugs, pangolin robots: when technology is inspired by nature

“Learn from nature and you will find your future there”: Like Leonardo da Vinci, inventor of the flying machine that mimics the flight of birds, many scientists and engineers continue to draw inspiration from nature to fuel technological innovations.

“Human creativity may be wonderful, but it can never match the power of nature,” says Evripidis Gkanias, a researcher at the University of Edinburgh.

Like this scientist, who studies the way artificial intelligence can be enriched with living organisms, many of the technological advances to be developed in 2023 are directly inspired by solutions that already exist in nature.

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Compass insects

Some insects, such as ants and bees, orient themselves based on light intensity, using the position of the sun as a reference point.

The researchers reproduced the structure of their eyes to build a new type of compass, which, unlike traditional models based on the Earth's magnetic field, is insensitive to electronic disturbances.

This prototype is able to estimate the position of the sun in the sky, even on cloudy days.

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“It works really well, and with the right funding, it could easily be turned into a more compact and lighter product,” says Mr. Jakanias, who introduced the concept in communications engineering.

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Spider web against drought

Who among us has never admired the tiny pearls of morning dew clinging to the threads of spider webs?

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From this standpoint, scientists have developed a fabric that mimics the silk threads secreted by spiders and is able, like them, to retain the slightest drop of water suspended in the air. An innovation that can play an important role in areas suffering from water shortages.

Once this material is produced on a large scale, the harvested water could reach a “large scale of real application,” Yongmei Cheng, co-author of the study published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials, told AFP.

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From chrome to firefighting

Researchers at the University of California, California have created a robot with a soft, inflatable structure that, like chromium, “grows” in the direction of light or heat and can sneak into the smallest, inaccessible places.

Scientists believe these tubular robots, which are about two meters long, could eventually be used to identify hotspots and provide extinction solutions.

“These robots are slow, but they are suitable for tackling smoldering fires, such as peat fires, which can be a major source of carbon emissions,” co-author Charles Xiao told AFP.

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From kombucha to printed circuits

Scientists at the University of Bristol's Unconventional Computing Laboratory have invented flexible electronic circuits from a carpet of bacterial cultures, used specifically to make kombucha, a drink made from oxidizing black tea leaves.

This “electronic kombucha” can be used to light small LED lights.

These bacterial mats, once dried, share the properties of textiles or even leather. But they are durable, biodegradable, and can even be immersed in water for several days without damage, the authors say.

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Portable, lighter, more flexible and less expensive than plastic, these biomaterials could in the future enable technologies to be integrated in a more discreet way, including even in the human body, such as heart monitors, estimates AFP lead author Andrew Adamatzky and the laboratory's director.

The only hurdles at the moment: its durability and establishing mass production.

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Robots are widespread

Pangolins, mammals with soft bodies covered in scales, have the ability to curl up into a ball to protect themselves from predators.

A small robot could adopt the same design to save lives, according to a study published in the journal Nature Communications.

It is supposed to pass through our digestive system before spreading there, and can administer medications or stop internal bleeding in hard-to-reach parts of the human body.

“Every part of the animal has a specific function,” says Ren Hao Sun of the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems. “It's very elegant.”

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On the same topic:

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