Giz Gadgets: High-Tech Gadgets That Were Inspired By Nature

Each new week brings with it an abundance of new gadgets — whether devised by tech giants like Google and Samsung or pushed by hopeful entrepreneurs to Kickstarter, they run the gamut from useful to niche to tech that nobody really needs. This week we're looking at gadgets that have been inspired by the natural world, from insectoid drones to wearables that incorporate your body.

Robot image via Shutterstock


How Bee Flight Patterns Are Helping With Drone Design

There’s a lot riding on bees. What, with the whole “please don’t go extinct or it will destroy our food supply” thing, and now potentially the future of drone technology.

Recent research shows that bees could be vital in developing drones that are better at avoiding obstacles. Scientists at the University of Sheffield have created a computer model of how bees avoid walls, based on on bee behavior and neurological data. You can watch it below:

So how does this all work? Bees control their flight using the speed of motion — or optic flow — of the visual world around them. How they do it is (so far) a mystery. Studies on insect brains to date have only detected neural circuits that can tell the direction of motion, not the speed.

“This is the reason why bees are confused by windows,” Lead researcher, Professor James Marshall said. “Since they are transparent they generate hardly any optic flow as bees approach them.”

The model created by the team, the Angular Velocity Detector Unit (AVDU), reproduces several behavioural patterns including the previously unaccounted-for observations in what the researchers call “the bee corridor-centering response”.

What this study means for drone design is that motion-direction detecting circuits could be wired together to also detect motion-speed. This is how bees control their flight — and could very well be the future of how drones behave, too.


Smart Clothing Aims To Help You Lose Weight

Thin Ice is essentially a more high-tech version of an ice vest, which aims to help you lose weight by 'activating the body's fat-burning brown fat pathways through cold temperatures'. While it's not actually as crazy as it sounds, and studies have been done to show that cool temperatures can actually help your metabolism. Still, it always pays to be at least a little sceptical of anything that claims to help you lose weight without any effort on your part.

For starters, there's nothing particularly ground-breaking about what Thin Ice does. You can get the same effect (ie, being cold) from turning your air-conditioning down or sitting in an ice bath. The only difference is an ice bath won't cost you $US165. Secondly, there's a reason that we don't routinely sit in ice baths or have our air-con on low temperatures, and that's because being cold isn't the most pleasant sensation.

Still, as someone who routinely wears ridiculous costumes that aren't exactly weather appropriate, there may be a use for an app-connected temperature regulated vest outside of the weight-loss industry. The app's ability to adjust temperature would be a godsend on any Australian summer day.

Still, by virtue of being an 'easy' weight loss solution, the Thin Ice has already passed its latest funding goal. We'll just have to see if it actually works.


A New Army Robot Has Creepily Nimble Fingers

Robots aren’t renowned for their ability to perform the delicate tasks that humans find straightforward. But the US Army has taken delivery of a new ‘bot that’s really quite handy.

The HDMS 551s1 robot, made by Resquared, is, admittedly, controlled by a human operator. But its pair of arms, two-fingered grippers and accurate motor systems allow it to happily perform all kinds of manipulation. It can unscrew bottles, open bags and, err, play with toys.

Clearly, it would be better if it could do it all by itself rather than requiring the input of a real human being, but it’s nonetheless impressive technology. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the robot is going to be used for bomb disposal operations.


This Drone Wants To Show You What It's Like To Fly

The Atom is a high speed FPV (first person view) micro-racing drone that wants to best give users the feeling of flying. With so many FPV drones on the market and the rise of VR, it's inevitable that this kind of experience would be something that designers and entrepreneurs strive for.

This particular drone is tiny, fitting in the palm of your hand, and designed with a few key features in mind. It's manoeuvrable, it's durable ("crash it over, and over, and over again" says the campaign video) but most of all it's fast.

Of course you won't get that stunning, crystal clear HD footage in your real-time FPV headset, but it's only a matter of time, right?


Maybe This New 'Skinterface' Will Make Smartwatches Actually Useful

If smartwatches are going to create a new gadget future beyond smartphones, they will have to up their game. Researchers from Carnegie Mellon may have just the innovation with a new smartwatch interface that takes advantage of the fleshy bezels surrounding the tiny watch displays — also known as your arm.

Called SkinTrack, this “whoa future” concept has two components: a wristband laden with electrodes, and a ring that emits a high-frequency AC signal. The ring’s signal propagates through your skin, and the high-tech wrist band senses the signal and is able to approximate its origin point. Just like that — skin display.

The tech also works through clothing as well, just in case you’re wearing sleeves. (If you don’t think you’d ever wear a bulky smart ring, just know that the tech industry disagrees with you.)


Mankind Doesn't Stand A Chance Now That Robotic Cockroaches Have Started Cooperating

The scourge of puppies, babies and robotic vacuums is no longer a problem for robotic cockroaches. Researchers at UC Berkeley have taught this pair of VelociRoACHes to cooperate and help each other tackle stairs using a tiny magnetic winch and old-fashioned teamwork.

Inspired by insects that have been known to work together to create living bridges and rafts, the VelociRoACH — short for Velocity Robotic Autonomous Crawling Hexapod — is larger than your average bug, but still too small to effectively tackle stairs using its six short legs.

But working together, one VelociRoACH is able to give a boost to a second one in front of it, which uses its scrambling eggs to eventually clamber its way up a 6.5cm tall step. Once it’s safely on top, a miniature winch allows that VelociRoACH to drag its buddy up onto the step as well.



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