Here is a fascinating example of biomimicry. Researchers in Italy are developing an artificial root system for a robot. The system consists of multiple fuel probes that sense soil energy content locally and communicate with each other as they fan out to locate the most fertile patches of soil for powering the robot’s operations. Such a root system can help power stationary robots longer as well as provide them structural support. For mobile robots, the evolving root systems of cooperating robots can communicate with each other to make every participant know where it might be able to find the energy to sustain its work.
This is a great example of interdisciplinary research that has profound potential impact. Engineers, biologists, and computer scientists are working together to implement this technology. Opportunities for computer scientists and biologists to work together are becoming more numerous, as scientists are increasingly taking design cues from nature and trying to mimic natural structures and processes in their designs. This approach, called biomimicry, is currently spurring innovation in everything from battery charging systems to materials engineering. Even cyber security research has been influenced, as some researchers have started to consider the idea of “virus” from a biological perspective as they devise new approaches for minimizing the spread of their cyber counterparts. For example, there is a lot of interest in creating defense systems that mimic a swarm of ants attacking an intruder. The result is a relentless, all-hands-on-deck defense of one’s cyber colony that is inherently multi-pronged and distributed.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, it seems a lot of us are gushing over Mother Nature now.