Snakebots, desert plants, and self-assembling space modules: the world of biomimicry

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“Life, uh, finds a way”—Applying lessons from evolution to go to Mars

Biomimicry looks to living organisms to create the future of sustainable engineering.

A robot designed to move like a sidewinder snake, from Henry Astley’s lab at the University of Akron. [Credit: moi]

For Ars Technica:

As philosopher-mathematician Jeff Goldblum once said, “life, uh, finds a way.”

To phrase that more scientifically, evolution has had billions of years of trial and error to produce species that are well adapted chemically and physically. Many human researchers want to imitate that adaptation, turning lessons from the natural world into practice in engineering, technology, and architecture. The entire venture goes under the name “biomimicry.”

“I think biomimicry is really beautiful,” says Ariel Ekblaw, a student at MIT’s Media Lab, who founded and leads the Media Lab’s Space Exploration Initiative. “It’s both a framework and… a set of tools or learnings from nature that can inform modern engineering and science research projects.”

To see the spectrum of biomimicry research, I attended a three-day workshop called “Nature-Inspired Exploration for Aerospace.” The workshop was cosponsored by NASA’s Glenn Research Center, the Ohio Aerospace Institute, and Great Lakes Biomimicry. Despite the aerospace focus, the program ranged from straight-up biology to philosophical queries about the reasons for doing biomimicry in the first place.

[Read the rest at Ars Technica]

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Yesterday, Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner (best known for jumping off skyscrapers) successfully completed a 39 kilometer dive from a balloon. Many media outlets described his jump as beginning “at the edge of space”, but the story is a little more complex than that.

One thing bothered me, though, about a lot of the coverage: many people said Baumgartner was jumping “from space” or “from the edge of space”. Don’t get me wrong—39 km is a long way up, about 4 times the altitude of commercial airliners, so I’m not denigrating this accomplishment at all. Atmospheric pressure is about 2% of its value at Earth’s surface at 39 km, and the temperatures are pretty cold, so Baumgartner had to wear a pressurized suit and carry an air supply. (If memory serves, the temperature was -7° C or 19° F when the dive began.) However, it’s not what is conventionally considered “space”: it’s within the region of Earth’s atmosphere known as the stratosphere (which also explains the project’s official name, “Stratos Jump”). So, if Baumgartner didn’t jump from space, where is the boundary of space? [Read more….]

Jumping from the “edge of space”…whatever that means