This month, Horizon looks at the growing field of bio-inspired robotics to find out how nature is inspiring machine design. We investigate the surgical tools that mimic how octopus arms become flexible or stiff on demand, sensors based on the orientation ability of maggots, and marine robots inspired by lilypads, fish and mussels.
Animals have evolved sophisticated ways of processing sensory data to make sense of their surroundings. Now, robotics researchers are drawing inspiration from biological processes to improve the way machines handle information, perceive their surroundings, and react to stimuli.
Robotic arms inspired by the octopus could help doctors to perform new operations using keyhole surgery. By mimicking the octopus arm to transform from soft and flexible to stiff and rigid, these soft robotic tools could increase the scope for operations through small incisions.
Robots won’t replace doctors any day soon, but they can already help medical professionals do amazing things. This month, Horizon looks at how robots will someday perform remote physical and ultrasound examinations so doctors can make a diagnosis from a distance, and medical avatars for elderly people that help them stay fit and safe. Plus, we see how computer games could make young people lead healthier lifestyles and how to give self-help apps more scientific merit.
How will we have enough food to feed another 2 billion people by the middle of this century without destroying our planet? Agriculture is already one of the biggest contributors to climate change. This month, we hear from scientists designing disease-resistant crops using gene editing, packing more calcium into finger millet, and resurrecting ancient crop varieties to offset the sector’s environmental impact. Plus, we hear from Dr Manoj Dora about so-called lean agriculture, which is looking to make agriculture more sustainable by eliminating waste from the production process.
Using off-the-shelf technology and innovative economics, lightweight helium balloons have started carrying remote-controlled laboratories to the edge of space and back, offering the business case for new types of science missions.
Floating research laboratories are reaching the fringes of space.
Automated and connected devices can save lives.
EU firms should be brought within ‘innovation ecosystems’ to develop breakthrough technology, according to Prof. Luke Georghiou.