A gecko climbs the smooth wall of a museum exhibit. Less than a few feet away is a robot designed by Carnegie Mellon's Casey Kute and a team of students in the university's NanoRobotics lab — climbing another smooth wall with similar ease.
The exhibit — at the Museum of Science in Boston — lets visitors watch live geckos in their habitat next to gecko-inspired climbing robots from Carnegie Mellon University.
"Visitors can actually control one of the robots and make it climb around on a moveable platform," said Kute, a 2009 National Science Foundation Fellow and a Ph.D. candidate. "They are also able to see images of the fibers developed at the NanoRobotics lab that some robots use to climb smooth walls, as well as test their adhesive strength."
Most of the work in the university's NanoRobotics lab varies in size but is predominantly inspired by biology.
"In nature, so many animals are able to accomplish great feats in everyday actions. We work to port the information about their actions into engineering," Kute explained. "We focus on the principles rather than simply copying nature. By starting with ideas from nature, we are able to more quickly achieve a more optimized engineering design."
By building miniature robots with great locomotion capabilities, Kute hopes that her work will be used for search and rescue and to obtain information about hazardous environments.
"The small robots will be able to go into difficult places and gather valuable information that could save people's lives," she said.
Kute encourages high school students interested in the field of nanorobotics to consider enrolling at Carnegie Mellon.
"Carnegie Mellon has a vast knowledge base, both from students and professors," she said. "And since the university strives to foster cross-discipline communication, it is very easy to work on robotic systems, which require electrical, computer and mechanical engineering."
She added, "Working on biologically-inspired robotics has definitely gotten me more interested in the world around me and allowed me to better appreciate the amazing functions of animals."
Photo by Joseph Rivers of the Museum of Science in Boston