Biomimetics: it looks like a bird, it acts like a bird, but it’s not a bird

The industry of robotics is an ever changing, constantly progressing field in which engineers and programmers manage to combine their efforts into some tangible form of technology.  Every new advancement seems almost unreal when the time is taken to consider all the pieces that must work in perfect unison to complete even the most basic of tasks. Perhaps the pinnacle, the robotic field, is the emerging specialty of biomimetics. Biomimetcs, as the name suggests, focuses on recreating the traits and abilities of biological systems in the form of materials and machines. The machines that fall into this category range from winged flight machines to tactilely sensing robots to robotic pack-mules. Each machine has a very specific set of skills enabling it to complete a specific task in the most efficient way possible.  Not surprisingly, many of the most advanced bomimetic robots have been developed to complete tasks specific to or applicable to the Armed Forces.

Biomimetcs focuses on recreating the traits and abilities of biological systems in the form of materials and machines

At least, not until now.

There is currently a tiny UAV that mimics both the aesthetics and flight of a hummingbird. This bird sized UAV comes equipped with a tiny camera, allowing information to be broadcasted back to its controller virtually in real time. The true potential of the hummingbird-bot lies in its maneuverability.  Much like the animal it mimics, the robot relies on flapping wings rather than a rotor or jet based propulsion system.  These wings matched with its tiny size allow for unmatched scouting precision. This robot even has the ability to hover. Just imagine using a humming bird sized robot to scout every room of a house. Using the information gathered by these robots hostiles could be identified and eliminated without the need for ground troops to engage them directly. The humming bird robot does have one very specific flaw however. Unfortunately, humming birds are not indigenous to many areas outside of the Americas. This means that it would likely look suspicious in many of America’s current battlegrounds. Even so, a tiny UAV still has many practical uses for our Armed Forces.

The true potential of the hummingbird-bot lies in its maneuverability

But what if our troops have a need to scout an underwater area? Obviously a flying robot will not be terribly useful. Luckily, a biorobotics laboratory in Switzerland has created a robot that mimics the amphibious nature of a salamander. The “Salamandra Robotica II” has the ability to navigate both land (however slowly) and sea (with incredible grace). Launching a swimming robot from a submarine searching for other submarines could provide an incredible advantage. The robot is small enough that it is unlikely to be picked up by more traditional scouting methods like sonar, and even if the robot was detected, it would appear to be a small underwater animal. The scouting vessel could determine the exact location and depth of an enemy vessel while remaining virtually undetected. Not bad for a salamander.

Once the necessary information has been gathered, a decision must be made regarding how to proceed. Regardless of whether it is more advantageous to deploy ground troops or try to eliminate targets through other means, biomimetric robots have a solution.  The most obvious way to eliminate enemy ground troop is with your own ground troops. This requires the movement of men and women as well as all the supplies that they will need to engage the enemy.  Traditional logic suggests that the troop would carry in their own supplies as well as a portion of the supplies needed for the group. But there are currently biomimetic robots in testing that could help to solve the problem of transporting supplies over difficult terrain without reducing the maneuverability of our troops on the ground.

Robotic mules are currently being tested to determine their potential in battlefield scenarios.

Robotic mules are currently being tested to determine their potential in battlefield scenarios. These devices, including the LS3, mimic the abilities of a pack mule or a horse. But where the robot differs from its biological counterpart is the operator’s ability to have complete control over the pack animal (or robot). The LS3 will not move, moan, or sleep without the explicit instructions from its operator. The ability to completely control a pack animal allows a soldier to carry in much more supplies without the potential of a frightened, poorly trained, or stubborn animal. These robots even have the ability to sense and adapt to the area around them. Their ability to “see” allows them to navigate inclines, unstable terrain, and even right themselves in the event that they are thrown off balance. If a mule existed that would never make noise or give off waste I would expect the Armed forces to adopt this breed of mutant animal. Until the day that animal is discovered / created, I think robots like the LS3 are the obvious choice for adding weight to the packs of our troops. Who knows? The LS3 could even be carrying what could amount to one of the most effective assassination tools ever devised: micro air drones.

Using the basic idea of the hummingbird inspired UAV with a much more nefarious purpose and on an even smaller scale, the United States Air force is currently developing bug like drones designed to eliminate specific targets. When completed, these aerial drones will have the ability to fly, hover, and perch their way through almost any area. The maneuverability of these tiny, bug and bird sized drones will be made possible by utilizing wings for propulsion much like the humming bird UAV. Unlike the UAV however, which is operated by remote control, “micro air vehicles” are being designed to be completely autonomous.  Not only will they have the ability to operate without direct commands from a controller, but they will have the ability to wait hours, days, or even weeks if necessary for the perfect moments to eliminate the intended target. In order to achieve this, the drones will be programmed with facial recognition software and have the ability to draw energy from natural and artificial sources. Harnessing the sun’s rays and heat given off by machinery to recharge themselves, micro air vehicles will be able to outlast the patience of even the most devoted sniper. The absolute patience of micro air drones matched with compact lethal payload of either chemicals or explosives will most likely result in a devastating combination. With their ability to autonomously carry out their mission after being deployed, the term “eyes on target” may just become a phrase relegated to old timey war movies.

While most of these biomimetic robots and drones are not yet deployable, functioning prototypes are currently being tested. Based on the technological advancements over the last few decades, it seems extremely possible that many of these prototypes will be deployed into active warzones in the near future. Every squad on the ground may be issued a hummingbird UAV to help them scout close quarters combat areas. Submarines may come equipped with their own fleet of amphibious salamander robots. Bombers could deploy fleets of micro air vehicles rather than precision bombs. The battlefield of the future is likely to incorporate more and more technology to provide troops with a tactical advantage over their adversaries.  What makes some of these technological advancements so effective is also the most terrifying aspect about them; even if you see a biomimetic drone, chances are you will just dismiss it as an animal, remaining completely unaware of the disadvantageous predicament you have just been forced in to.


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