May 30, 2015 | David F. Coppedge

Gecko Gripper Picks Up Anything

The gecko gripper is just one of many exciting developments in the field of biomimetics: the imitation of nature’s designs.

Watch this video clip at PhysOrg: a new gripping device can pick up anything from a basketball to a water bottle without squeezing it. It relies on Van der Waals atomic forces, just like the spatulae on gecko toes. Think of the applications for this surprising substance. “Using a glove with this material, a child could palm a basketball, but could still toss an air-filled balloon without having it stick. It’s super-grippy, but not sticky at all.”

Living cells have molecular pumps that are inspiring work at Northwestern University. PhysOrg reports on the first artificial molecular pump inspired by nature.

Is hemp good for anything beyond altering people’s consciousness? It could join wheat straw as an ingredient in the rapidly expanding field of “bio-based materials,” the “construction industry’s best-kept secret,” PhysOrg reports.

“Auxetic materials” is a new term for new lifelike materials that get fatter when stretched and thinner when compressed—opposite most artificial materials. Inspired by seashells, these materials “are inspiring a new wave of safety gear in sport” (PhysOrg).

Got teeth? If you’d like to keep them, be glad that researchers are on the verge of creating “Revolutionary therapeutic dental adhesives with the aptitude to remineralize the resin-dentine bonding interface through biomimetic processes,” Science Daily reports happily.  This won’t just fill teeth; it will rebuild them. Medical Xpress adds that the “natural reparative capacity of teeth” is being elucidated at a Paris university.

Spider silk has long been a biomimetic favorite. How about the web structure itself? Nature reports that MIT’s wizards have 3-D printed a web out of resin that “could be used in applications such as reinforcing industrial materials.” Lab tests showed that “they could strengthen the web by adjusting the diameter of the threads radiating out from the middle, and that of the threads that spiral around the web.” How did spiders figure that out?

As for spider silk itself, despair not: Science Daily brings good news from MIT: “After years of research decoding the complex structure and production of spider silk, researchers have now succeeded in producing samples of this exceptionally strong and resilient material in the laboratory. The new development could lead to a variety of biomedical materials — from sutures to scaffolding for organ replacements — made from synthesized silk with properties specifically tuned for their intended uses.” No spiders were needed for the simulation.

Robotics is a major field that relies on biomimetics. Some recent examples:

  1. Nature writes about Europeans building “Robots that can adapt like animals” including responding to injuries. “Experiments reveal successful adaptations for a legged robot injured in five different ways, including damaged, broken, and missing legs, and for a robotic arm with joints broken in 14 different ways. This new algorithm will enable more robust, effective, autonomous robots, and may shed light on the principles that animals use to adapt to injury.
  2. Science Daily writes about robots that master skills by trial and error, “using a process that more closely approximates the way humans learn, marking a major milestone in the field of artificial intelligence.”
  3. Humans are at the frontier of cyber-physical systems, PhysOrg says. Researchers got a $8.75 million grant, part of which is for developing “microrobots with synthetic cells to perform functions that may one day lead to tissue and organ re-generation.”
  4. Nature published a Review article about the status of “probabilistic machine learning and artificial intelligence.”

Christoph Adami, one of the promoters of computer evolution models, is working on robots, too. Nature reports that he is using “evolutionary algorithms” to create robots with instincts. Like the ID community keeps pointing out, though, the researcher is sneaking information into the algorithm. Dembski has proved that no evolutionary algorithm is superior to blind chance unless extra information is intelligently supplied (Law of Conservation of Information; see latest explanation in his new book Being as Communion).

Evolution is to biomimetics as fly is to ointment. Keep out, Darwin; your age has passed. It’s the information age now.

Young people need inspiration to get into science. Biomimetics is a golden pathway into a new scientific age of inspiration, understanding, and wealth, yielding practical applications that can help the whole world.

 

 

 

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