"biomimicry" entries

Four short links: 17 February 2016

Four short links: 17 February 2016

0G Gecko Grippers, Self-Parking Chairs, Willow Garage, and Death by Optimistic Algorithm Assessment

  1. Grasping with Gecko Grippers in Zero Gravity (YouTube) — biomimetic materials science breakthrough from Stanford’s Biomimetics and Dexterous Manipulation Lab proves useful in space. (via IEEE Spectrum)
  2. Nissan’s Self-Parking Office Chairs — clever hack, but thought-provoking: will we have an auto-navigating office chair before the self-driving auto revolution arrives? Because, you know, my day isn’t sedentary enough as it is …
  3. The Man Behind the Robot Revolution — profile of the man behind Willow Garage. Why he and it are interesting: Although the now defunct research-lab-startup hybrid might not ring any bells to you now, it was one of the most influential forces in modern robotics. The freewheeling robot collective jump-started the current race to apply robotics components like computer vision, manipulation, and autonomy into applications for everything from drones and autonomous cars to warehouse operations at places like Google, Amazon, and car companies like BMW. Google alone acquired three of the robot companies spawned by Willow.
  4. NSA’s Lousy Evaluation of Drone Strike Algorithm Effectiveness (Ars Technica) — vastly overstating the quality of the predictions. The 0.008% false positive rate would be remarkably low for traditional business applications. This kind of rate is acceptable where the consequences are displaying an ad to the wrong person, or charging someone a premium price by accident. However, even 0.008% of the Pakistani population still corresponds to 15,000 people potentially being misclassified as “terrorists” and targeted by the military—not to mention innocent bystanders or first responders who happen to get in the way. Security guru Bruce Schneier agreed. “Government uses of big data are inherently different from corporate uses,” he told Ars. “The accuracy requirements mean that the same technology doesn’t work. If Google makes a mistake, people see an ad for a car they don’t want to buy. If the government makes a mistake, they kill innocents.” (via Cory Doctorow)

Biomimicry in the real world

There's good reason to believe nature has clues about how to do a good job — can it also help with web designs?


Festo’s Robotic Bird. Photo by Mike Loukides.

A couple of years ago, I visited the World Science Festival in New York and saw Festo’s robotic bird. It was amazing. I’ve seen things that looked more or less like a bird, and that flew, but clearly weren’t flying like a bird. An airplane has a body, has wings, and flies, but you wouldn’t mistake it for a bird. This was different: it looked like a giant seagull, with head and tail movements that were clearly modelled on a living bird’s.

Since then, Festo has built a robotic kangaroo; based on work they started in 2010, they have a robotic elephant’s trunk that learns, a robotic jellyfish, and no doubt many other animals that I haven’t yet seen.

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