Christian Long

Robert Full: Animal Movement

In TED Talks on April 29, 2010 at 11:51 am

Reflection by Erin M.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Robert Full:  Animal Movement

There are so many things in nature that inspire advancement in technology and design.

In this TED talk Robert Full shares the fundamentals of a foot and how they can be used to create something beyond nature that can be helpful to us. His goal was to research feet of different creatures and to discover what principles of the feet give the creature the ability to move. He then wanted to design a foot with the most advanced biological features that could be put to use as a rescue or research robot.

The foot is defined as the lower extremity of the leg that is in direct contact with the ground standing or walking. Full wanted to go beyond this dictionary definition and learn what characteristics of the foot allow creatures to climb on different surfaces. There are so many different kinds of feet which means that there are many different things involved in making a foot that can climb on any surface. After several experiments were done, the foot was further defined as the part of the animal comes in contact with the surface that gives it the ability to move. So a foot does not necessarily have to be a “foot”, but it can be the arms, legs, or body. For example, a cockroach with no feet still is capable of walking across a mesh surface very rapidly. How can this be? It was discovered that the spines on cockroach’s legs are more than just censors; they are specially designed to help the cockroach climb. This was further tested with a crab. Crabs do not have the spines that cockroaches have, so they were not able walk across the mesh. Artificial spines were placed on their legs that gave them the ability to walk across the mesh with no problems.

Of course many of us know that claws give animals the ability to climb on rough surfaces. However, when animals are place on smooth surfaces what allows them to climb without falling? With close observation it was discovered feet of certain creatures act as a paddle on smooth surfaces. Certain animals with this paddle like foot allow them to treat the surface like a liquid and climb up the wall. This was fascinating to me because something like this in nature does not always seem possible to our eye. Another thing that gives animals the capability to climb up smooth surfaces is a sticky material attached to the bottom of a foot that sticks to the surface as it climbs. Tiny hairs also work like the sticky material by using intermolecular forces. For example the hairs on a geckos toes which you can read about in my blog entry or watch the video on Robert Full’s TED presentation

With all of these details known about the foot we are one step closer to building a technologically advanced rescue/research robot. With curiosity based research the discovery of different mechanics that can be used to improve many things such as; rescue, research, and medicine. By using design by nature Full was able to redesign a better foot. To do this he focused his attention on the limbs and body instead of the brain. His idea was not to mimic nature, but create biology inspired solutions to elevate the usefulness of the foot.

“Preserve nature’s designs or the secrets will be lost forever.”—Robert Full


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