Robots vs Animals: The Bristol Robotics Laboratory learning from the ingenuity of nature

Issue date: 07 May 2014


Dr Martin Pearson, lying on the floor, face to face with a robot

The special skills of animals are to be judged against that of robots in an exciting new project involving The Bristol Robotics Laboratory(BRL) and Bristol ZooGardens.

The Robots vs Animals project, funded by theRoyal Academy of Engineering's public engagement grant scheme, Ingenious, will see engineers and roboticists collaborate with zoologists to showcase how humans have learnt from the ingenuity of nature. The team from BRL and Bristol Zoo will develop interactive events that explore nature-inspired robots.

Robots vs Animals project leader Laura Fogg Rogers, a Research Fellow at UWE Bristol's Science Communication Unit (SCU), says, “We are so excited to be working with Bristol Zoo on this creative project. Animals can beat us humans hands-down with their superhuman senses and abilities – just think of the grip strength of a gorilla or the sensitivity of a rat's whiskers. But in this project we also get to showcase human ingenuity – demonstrating the robots which combine skills that nature has evolved over millennia.

“In the age of high-tech robotic engineering, the science of biomimetics seeks to copy and improve the skills found in the animal kingdom to develop futuristic robots. In this project we will reveal the stories of the design process taken by BRL engineers to create biologically inspired robots; ranging from active touch with whiskers, power generation from urine to working together in cooperative societies.”

The robots and their animal inspirations will feature in public events throughout the year. The project will kick off with a talk by leading roboticist Professor Alan Winfield at the Bristol Festival of Nature on 14 June at 11:00, and will culminate in the Bristol Green Capital year 2015.

Schoolchildren will also get to quiz the project engineers and zoologists at Bristol Zoo to find out more about the superhuman powers of their respective charges. The learning will be continued through an interactive website and design competition open to adults and children alike.

But which are better, robots or animals? The public will decide.

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