Biomimetics defined by Merriam-Webster:
“the study of the formation, structure, or function of biologically produced substances and materials (as enzymes or silk) and biological mechanisms and processes (as protein synthesis or photosynthesis) especially for the purpose of synthesizing similar products by artificial mechanisms which mimic natural ones”
The aspects of biomechanics which are the most compelling, for me, are not associated with the human form specifically, but rather in how bodies in motion (with force and weight) are propelled through space. How the variety of beings in the physical world evolved (to some various extent) the capabilities to adapt to terrain, to adjust speed, vary their weight and to do many of these adjustable movements while performing other tasks.
When I saw this video I realized that I had found my subject:
Though I may not be specifically interested in the jaws of these ants, I am certainly interested in how they move and in insect locomotion in general.
So, I began reading on insect locomotion with this paper whose keywords also include (to my delight) “biomimetic, locomotion, coordination, sensory feedback, biorobotics”:
Delcomyn, Fred. “Insect Walking and Robotics” Annual Review of Entomology 49:51-70 (2004) ProQuest. Web. 03 Jan 2013.
(It can be found through here as well: http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev.ento.49.061802.123257)
Particular projects/engineers in the robotics field want to create insect-inspired walking forms (for various reasons that bi-pedal robots or even quadrupedal forms may not be desireable, including the need to design autonomous robots to tackle severely rough terrain) Biologists can, in turn, test their hypothesis about insect locomotion through working with engineers to create insect-inspired robots.
He argues the importance of sciences outside of mechanical engineering and biomechanics, largely neurology, as extremely important to understanding insect locomotion. He discusses the role of understanding the neurological aspect of biological coordination and specifically how the brain affects the gait of an insect and draws a parallel to the computational design of specific robotics. He explains that roboticists wishing to make a walking many legged robot must ask themselves the same questions that biologists ask about insect locomotion.
Bassler and Buschges posited that ”all rhythmic movements (in insects) are generated by central pattern generators (CPGs) whose action can be modified and adjusted by sensory (peripheral) influences.” Simply: one unit (in the brain) controls all legs of any given insect. This referenced research is about the import of the central nervous system to locomotion as it “is capable of generating a pattern of alternating activity” in the legs of insects.
He then discusses recent studies on the biomechanical aspects of insect locomotion and refutes the neuron-only argument, citing studies wherein insects have recovered from perturbances to gait much more quickly than can be explained by the firing of neurons (i.e. a CPG). He cites studies that show insect locomotion is instead founded in the physical characteristics and “body plan” of the insect which compensate for sensory perturbances in the rhythms of the insects’ gait.
He references, when discussing roboticists whose work falls into this realm (insect – biomimetics), Carnegie-Mellon’s Dante and Dante II.
He then begins to delve into the biomimicry of robotics, discussing everything from controlling the robot to designing its locomotion as founded in biology.
He mentions several historical components meant to simulate muscle movement, including pneumatic devices such as McKibben actuators (a 1950′s invention intended to mimic muscle contractions.) Pictured below :
and can generate movement like this:
He also discusses several roboticists working in insect inspired projects:
Begin at 3:01:
Kirchner used the CPG method of motor control (Central Pattern Generation, mentioned above).
Whereas this robot (below) has no central control, as each leg has separate control networks for swing and stance:
The Quinn/Ritzmann group has a paper establishing the biometrics of cockroach locomotion as applied specifically to robotics.
I will gleefully be reading this next!
Delcomyn then states that it is his belief that to fully incorporate biological design in the field of robotics is impossible, even with the increase in computing powers. He states that to create a fully biomimetic robot, one must incorporate a suite of redundant sensors and actuators and linear control systems for these sensors and actuators.
The study of biomechanics as a means to biomimetic robotics is elemental to the field. He states that Quinn/Ritzmann has proven this to be the case.
He states that in order for biomimicry to be achieved, biologists, roboticists and biomechanists must all work together to construct the robot and deconstruct the biological creatures they copy, as “engineering can contribute to the study of animal behavior” as much as engineering can glean from biology.