Science clings to the hope of robot gecko
EVERY once in a while, I run into someone who hates geckos and won't allow them in their home. They think of geckos as -- now get this -- pests. No, seriously, these people are out there.
Imagine, I tell them, what it would take for scientists to come up with a little self-propelled robot that would chase down and capture insects inside your house, working night and day, and when they were not needed, they would simply disappear behind a picture on the wall or behind some furniture. The insect-catching robots would require no maintenance and would increase or decrease their number depending on the amount of insects that needed to be eliminated. And the robots would be -- and this is important -- cute.
Someone would become a multimillionaire overnight if they could create a robot like that. It would be a major breakthrough in the home appliance industry, bigger than the vacuum cleaner or even that haircutting gizmo that you attach to your vacuum cleaner hose. But we don't need a robot that patrols houses capturing insects, because we have geckos. They are nature's perfect little compact, streamlined, bug-gulping machines.
As if to prove my point that science can't possibly improve on the common Hawaii house gecko, MIT's Technology Review reports rather breathlessly that researchers have created a robot that can run up a wall and across ceilings. They admit that they are trying to reverse-engineer real geckos, first by artificially duplicating the fine hairlike structures called setae on their feet that allow them to defy gravity and cling to the most improbable of places. Robot engineer Metin Sitti says, "In addition to its sticky feet, the robot uses two triangular wheel-like legs and a tail to enable it to move with considerable agility."
YEAH, but 1) Can it eat mosquitoes and termites? 2) Can it regenerate its tail when a cat maliciously rips it off and, most important, 3) Is it cute? No, no and no.
The wall-climbing robot scientists (that is, scientists working with wall-climbing robots, not scientists who climb walls) say that one of the uses of such robots would be to inspect the hulls of spacecraft for damage. That's just silly. Why go to the trouble of inventing a mechanical gecko to inspect spacecraft hulls when it would be easier to modify a spacesuit for geckos that would allow them to do the job? Put a little spacesuit on a gecko, a microcamera on his helmet and -- bingo! -- you've got the perfect astro-reptile. Geckos already have that whole zero-gravity thing licked.
And speaking of licked, one problem with the gecko robot is that its robot feet get dirty and can't hold onto the wall.
"No one has yet explained why geckos can first run on a dirt road, picking up dust, and then somehow climb walls," said one physics professor.
The answer, sir, is tongues. Gecko have tongues that they use to keep their little footsies clean. Robots can not lick their feet and look cute doing it.
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