The world of mechanics and robotics proved to contain some interesting analogues and even inspiration for speculative biological creations. That worked for flying animals, both of the heavier than air and of the lighter than air variety. No wonder that the thought came up that walking and other terrestrial modes of transportation could undergo the same treatment.
So, are there interesting mechanical contraptions out there that deserve to be 'biologified'? (I just invented that word but checked it on Google to be certain. Unfortunately, I was not the first: 'biologify' has 3 hits and its derived noun 'biologification' already has 91. Oh well...).
Well, the result of my search is a bit less dramatic than held for the flying animals, but there are some intriguing inventions out there. If you type in words such as 'walking machines' or 'robot insect' into Google, you will find many hits. Most concern toys with usually a high number of legs, of which only a few are lifted at a time. Most are not at all sophisticated in the sense of having integrated sensory and motor systems with balancing reflexes. No neural control at all, sadly. Instead there is just a motor and some mechanical bits and pieces that turn a rotary motion into steps. If you look at them, you realise how complicated and advanced biological walking really is. Still, that does not mean that people cannot have fun with these machines, and watching them is good fun as well. Just have a look at the following clunker:
I found it on YouTube, where it is labelled as a walking machine at "Burning Man '07" You can see that there are at least four legs on the ground at any time, so no delicate balancing tricks here. There doesn't seem to be much in the way of a suspension either, so it might pay to bring a soft cushion.
A more advanced machine is the so-called 'walking tractor'. From what I read, it was a design by a Finnish company meant for the logging industry, but the company apparently no longer exists. You can see they followed the double tripod design, in which three legs are always on the ground. This one apparently had advanced computerised controls. Here it comes:
A walker that really is beginning to look like an animal is the 'Big Dog' by Boston Dynamics. It is supposed to help soldiers cross difficult terrain. A very convincing demonstration occurs halfway in the video: someone kicks it, and it obviously has the reflexes to deal with that. If it steps in a hole, it can even deal with that without falling too. It is lengthy, but worthwhile:
I found it extremely impressive. Well, for a machine, that is. It is not impressive for an animal, which shows how much cybernetics still have to catch up...
None of these machines provide new inspiration in the sense of something that biology hasn't come up with yet. Surely there is something of interste for those who do speculative biology? Yes, there is: in the first place, machines such as the clunker shown above do hold some interest, as their legs work as 'pantographs': there is a system of bars linked together with movable joints, and no biological leg works like that. I will keep that subject for another entry, and that will also deal with Theo Jansens 'standbeesten'.
I will close with something for which I do not think there is a biological analogue, and I rather doubt the design idea lends itself will for biologification. It is a tripod walk. You will probably be disappointed know, seeing that tripod walkers go back as far as HG Wells in 'The war of the worlds'. (By the way, walking with odd numbers of legs might also merit a blog entry one day: there are pentapod walkers on Furaha, not to mention Epona!) But the design here has a twist. Almost literally, in fact. Its home page is here It is very creative and very crazy at the same time, so I cannot help but like it! Does anyone think it makes sense for an animal to move like this?