Mind & Matter


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Monopus robot developed by Cecilia Laschi, Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies.


The study of robotics has been on the rise for some time, but a recent article in The Economist points out a significant departure from the standard robot designs. Until recently, there have been essentially two physical manifestations of robot: “Widgetophora” and “Anthropoidea.” The first is a cobbled-together assembly of components (R2-D2) and the second is assumes an anthropomorphic format (C-3PO).

Recent interest in biomimicry has inspired scientists to seek other channels for robot morphology and behavior, beginning with the simplest invertebrates. Researchers at the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies in Pisa are building robots that emulate lampreys and octopus arms, for example. These intelligent machines can navigate quickly through water, squeezing into tight spaces if necessary. They are made from interior springs of elastic nickel-titanium alloy wrapped in an outer casing of silicone with embedded pressure sensors.

Other examples of the new “Zoomorpha” phylum include cyber clams, gecko lizards, shrews, and dragonflies. The proliferation of these small biomimetic devices suggests that architecture may also be a ripe territory for study. Buildings could make use of assemblies of self-regulating systems, for example, that control air flow, harness energy, treat waste, and self-heal when degraded.




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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.