Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Journal: Bioinspiration & biomimetics


The cleanup of accidental oil spills in water is an enormous challenge; conventional oil sorbents absorb large amounts of water in addition to oil and other cleanup methods can cause secondary pollution. In contrast, fresh leaves of the aquatic ferns Salvinia are superhydrophobic and superoleophilic, and can selectively absorb oil while repelling water. These selective wetting properties are optimal for natural oil absorbent applications and bioinspired oil sorbent materials. In this paper we quantify the oil absorption capacity of four Salvinia species with different surface structures, water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes) and Lotus leaves (Nelumbo nucifera), and compare their absorption capacity to artificial oil sorbents. Interestingly, the oil absorption capacities of Salvinia molesta and Pistia stratiotes leaves are comparable to artificial oil sorbents. Therefore, these pantropical invasive plants, often considered pests, qualify as environmentally friendly materials for oil spill cleanup. Furthermore, we investigated the influence of oil density and viscosity on the oil absorption, and examine how the presence and morphology of trichomes affect the amount of oil absorbed by their surfaces. Specifically, the influence of hair length and shape is analyzed by comparing different hair types ranging from single trichomes of Salvinia cucullata to complex eggbeater-shaped trichomes of Salvinia molesta to establish a basis for improving artificial bioinspired oil absorbents.

Concepts: Liquid, Petroleum, Digestion, Trichome, Absorption, Fern, Oil spill, Aquatic plants


There are many challenges to measuring power input and force output from a flapping vertebrate. Animals can vary a multitude of kinematic parameters simultaneously, and methods for measuring power and force are either not possible in a flying vertebrate or are very time and equipment intensive. To circumvent these challenges, we constructed a robotic, multi-articulated bat wing that allows us to measure power input and force output simultaneously, across a range of kinematic parameters. The robot is modeled after the lesser dog-faced fruit bat, Cynopterus brachyotis, and contains seven joints powered by three servo motors. Collectively, this joint and motor arrangement allows the robot to vary wingbeat frequency, wingbeat amplitude, stroke plane, downstroke ratio, and wing folding. We describe the design, construction, programing, instrumentation, characterization, and analysis of the robot. We show that the kinematics, inputs, and outputs demonstrate good repeatability both within and among trials. Finally, we describe lessons about the structure of living bats learned from trying to mimic their flight in a robotic wing.

Concepts: Bat, Robotics, Electric motor, Input/output, Input, Output, Flight, Control theory


Friction, wear and the associated energy dissipation are major challenges in all systems containing moving parts. Examples range from nanoelectromechanical systems over hip prosthesis to off-shore wind turbines. Bionic approaches have proven to be very successful in many engineering problems, while investigating the potential of a bio-inspired approach in creating morphological surface textures is a relatively new field of research. Here, we developed laser-created textures inspired by the scales found on the skin of snakes and certain lizards. We show that this bio-inspired surface morphology reduced dry sliding friction forces by more than 40%. In lubricated contacts the same morphology increased friction by a factor of three. Two different kinds of morphologies, one with completely overlapping scales and one with the scales arranged in individual rows, were chosen. In lubricated as well as unlubricated contacts, the surface texture with the scales in rows showed lower friction forces than the completely overlapping ones. We anticipate that these results could have significant impact in all dry sliding contacts, ranging from nanoelectromechanical and micro-positioning systems up to large-scale tribological contacts which cannot be lubricated, e.g. because they are employed in a vacuum environment.

Concepts: Normal force, Mass, Classical mechanics, Texture, Force, Lubricant, Friction, Tribology


Pressure-sensitive adhesives such as tapes become easily contaminated by dust particles. By contrast, animal adhesive pads are able to self-clean and can be reused millions of times over a lifetime with little reduction in adhesion. However, the detailed mechanisms underlying this ability are still unclear. Here we test in adhesive pads of stick insects (Carausius morosus) (1) whether self-cleaning is enhanced by the liquid pad secretion, and (2) whether alternating push-pull movements aid the removal of particles. We measured attachment forces of insect pads on glass after contamination with 10 µm polystyrene beads. While the amount of fluid present on the pad showed no effect on the pads' susceptibility to contamination, the recovery of adhesive forces after contamination was faster when higher fluid levels were present. However, this effect does not appear to be based on a faster rate of self-cleaning since the number of spheres deposited with each step did not increase with fluid level. Instead, the fluid may aid the recovery of adhesive forces by filling in the gaps between contaminating particles, similar to the fluid’s function on rough surfaces. Further, we found no evidence that an alternation of pushing and pulling movements, as found in natural steps, leads to a more efficient recovery of adhesion than repeated pulling slides.

Concepts: Dust, A Lifetime, Phasmatodea, Liquid, Adhesion, Insect, Adhesive, Carausius morosus


The roles of biological springs in vertebrate animals and their implementations in compliant legged robots offer significant advantages over the rigid legged ones in certain types of scenarios. A large number of robotics institutes have been attempting to work in conjunction with biologists and incorporated these principles into the design of biologically inspired robots. The motivation of this review is to investigate the most published compliant legged robots and categorize them according to the types of compliant elements adopted in their mechanical structures. Based on the typical robots investigated, the trade-off between each category is summarized. In addition, the most significant performances of these robots are compared quantitatively, and multiple available solutions for the future compliant legged robot design are suggested. Finally, the design challenges for compliant legged robots are analysed. This review will provide useful guidance for robotic designers in creating new designs by inheriting the virtues of those successful robots according to the specific tasks.

Concepts: Vertebrate, Liar!, Industrial robot, Isaac Asimov, Biology, Design, Robotics, Robot


In underwater locomotion, extracting meaningful information from local flows is as desirable as it is challenging, due to complex fluid-structure interaction. Sensing and motion are tightly interconnected; hydrodynamic signals generated by the external stimuli are modified by the self-generated flow signals. Given that very little is known about self-generated signals, we used onboard pressure sensors to measure the pressure profiles over the head of a fusiform-shape craft while moving forward and backward harmonically. From these measurements we obtained a second-order polynomial model which incorporates the velocity and acceleration of the craft to estimate the surface pressure within the swimming range up to one body length/second (L s-1). The analysis of the model reveals valuable insights into the temporal and spatial changes of the pressure intensity as a function of craft’s velocity. At low swimming velocities (<0.2 L s-1) the pressure signals are more sensitive to the acceleration of the craft than its velocity. However, the inertial effects gradually become less important as the velocity increases. The sensors on the front part of the craft are more sensitive to its movements than the sensors on the sides. With respect to the hydrostatic pressure measured in still water, the pressure detected by the foremost sensor reaches values up to 300 Pa at 1 L s-1 swimming velocity, whereas the pressure difference between the foremost sensor and the next one is less than 50 Pa. Our results suggest that distributed pressure sensing can be used in a bimodal sensing strategy. The first mode detects external hydrodynamic events taking place around the craft, which requires minimal sensitivity to the self-motion of the craft. This can be accomplished by moving slowly with a constant velocity and by analyzing the pressure gradient as opposed to absolute pressure recordings. The second mode monitors the self-motion of the craft. It is shown here that distributed pressure sensing can be used as a speedometer to measure the craft's velocity.

Concepts: Transducer, Pressure sensor, Pascal, Scalar, Measurement, Fluid dynamics, Velocity, Pressure


An amoeboid unicellular organism, a plasmodium of the true slime mold Physarum polycephalum, exhibits complex spatiotemporal oscillatory dynamics and sophisticated information processing capabilities while deforming its amorphous body. We previously devised an ‘amoeba-based computer (ABC),’ that implemented optical feedback control to lead this amoeboid organism to search for a solution to the traveling salesman problem (TSP). In the ABC, the shortest TSP route (the optimal solution) is represented by the shape of the organism in which the body area (nutrient absorption) is maximized while the risk of being exposed to aversive light stimuli is minimized. The shortness of the TSP route found by ABC, therefore, serves as a quantitative measure of the optimality of the decision made by the organism. However, it remains unclear how the decision-making ability of the organism originates from the oscillatory dynamics of the organism. We investigated the number of coexisting traveling waves in the spatiotemporal patterns of the oscillatory dynamics of the organism. We show that a shorter TSP route can be found when the organism exhibits a lower number of traveling waves. The results imply that the oscillatory dynamics are highly coordinated throughout the global body. Based on the results, we discuss the fact that the decision-making ability of the organism can be enhanced not by uncorrelated random fluctuations, but by its highly coordinated oscillatory dynamics.

Concepts: Feedback, Microorganism, Function problem, Protist, Operations research, Travelling salesman problem, Slime mold, Physarum polycephalum


The highly flexible and stretchable wing skin of bats, together with the skeletal structure and musculature, enables large changes in wing shape during flight. Such compliance distinguishes bat wings from those of all other flying animals. Although several studies have investigated the aerodynamics and kinematics of bats, few have examined the complex histology and mechanical response of the wing skin. This work presents the first biaxial characterization of the local deformation, mechanical properties, and fiber kinematics of bat wing skin. Analysis of these data has provided insight into the relationships among the structural morphology, mechanical properties, and functionality of wing skin. Large spatial variations in tissue deformation and non-negligible fiber strains in the cross-fiber direction for both chordwise and spanwise fibers indicate fibers should be modeled as two-dimensional elements. The macroscopic constitutive behavior was anisotropic and nonlinear, with very low spanwise and chordwise stiffness (hundreds of kilopascals) in the toe region of the stress-strain curve. The structural arrangement of the fibers and matrix facilitates a low energy mechanism for wing deployment and extension, and we fabricate examples of skins capturing this mechanism. We propose a comprehensive deformation map for the entire loading regime. The results of this work underscore the importance of biaxial field approaches for soft heterogeneous tissue, and provide a foundation for development of bio-inspired skins to probe the effects of the wing skin properties on aerodynamic performance.

Concepts: Aerodynamics, Young's modulus, Skin, Tensile strength, Flying and gliding animals, Bat, Flight, Wing


Some insects, such as Papilio blumei and Suneve coronata, are known for exhibiting polarization effects on light such as color contrast or geometrical polarization rotation by reflection on their wing scales. The photonic structures found on these species that show these properties are multilayered spherical cavities or triangular grooves which polarize the light due to multiple inner reflections. These polarization effects, in addition to the intrinsic color-mixing properties of these photonic structures, are of interest in the anti-counterfeiting field due to their invisibility to the naked eye. In this paper, we report micro-fabrication techniques to produce bio-inspired cylindrical grooves (C-grooves) and triangular grooves (V-grooves) that demonstrate the same properties. Theoretical analyses were carried out by using multi-scale simulation (MS) as well as by finite-difference time-domain (FDTD) in order to compare the polarization capability of both structures. The V-grooves show greater polarization contrast than the C-grooves, but the spectrum is specular. The C-grooves exhibit lower polarization effects but have a dispersive spectrum. In both cases, the structures show additional optical properties, such as diffraction, macroscopic color contrast under a polarizer, and contrast inversion due to geometries which contribute to their uniqueness.

Concepts: Light, Birefringence, Brewster's angle, Polarizer, Maxwell's equations, Polarization, Optics


The coordinated motion by multiple swimmers is a fundamental component in fish schooling. The flow field induced by the motion of each self-propelled swimmer implies non-linear hydrodynamic interactions among the members of a group. How do swimmers compensate for such hydrodynamic interactions in coordinated patterns? We provide an answer to this riddle though simulations of two, self-propelled, fish-like bodies that employ a learning algorithm to synchronise their swimming patterns. We distinguish between learned motion patterns and the commonly used a-priori specified movements, that are imposed on the swimmers without feedback from their hydrodynamic interactions. First, we demonstrate that two rigid bodies executing pre-specified motions, with an alternating leader and follower, can result in substantial drag-reduction and intermittent thrust generation. In turn, we study two self-propelled swimmers arranged in a leader-follower configuration, with a-priori specified body-deformations. These two self-propelled swimmers do not sustain their tandem configuration. The follower experiences either an increase or decrease in swimming speed, depending on the initial conditions, while the swimming of the leader remains largely unaffected. This indicates that a-priori specified patterns are not sufficient to sustain synchronised swimming. We then examine a tandem of swimmers where the leader has a steady gait and the follower learns to synchronize its motion, to overcome the forces induced by the leader’s vortex wake. The follower employs reinforcement learning to adapt its swimming-kinematics so as to minimize its lateral deviations from the leader’s path. Swimming in such a sustained synchronised tandem yields up to [Formula: see text] reduction in energy expenditure for the follower, in addition to a [Formula: see text] increase in its swimming-efficiency. The present results show that two self-propelled swimmers can be synchronised by adapting their motion patterns to compensate for flow-structure interactions. Moreover, swimmers can exploit the vortical structures of their flow field so that synchronised swimming is energetically beneficial.

Concepts: Swimming, Race condition, Synchronism, Synchronized swimming, Machine learning, Learning, Synchronization