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Robotics Researchers Look To Animals To Make The Perfect Bots

Animals have many of the characteristics of the brilliantly useful machines scientists would like to create: flexibility, adaptability, instinctive intelligence ...

Harvard's RoboBee project
Harvard's RoboBee project
Frank Niedercorn

PARIS — The little robot moves on unperturbed despite just being run over by a sport utility vehicle. Unlike similar machines with rigid structures, this one created by teams from the Harvard School of Engineering and Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering has a soft body made of a mix of rubber and silicone and strengthened with synthetic fibers. It moves on four legs articulated by rubber activators, like something between an insect and a snail. It is just one of the many examples of robots inspired by animals, whose characteristics are of increasing interest to researchers.

Suppleness, for example, is a whole new field in robotics, and researchers are no longer satisfied with the combination of metal and plastic. "A soft palm helps the hand catch objects, because it molds around them," says Pierre-Yves Oudeyer, head of research at Inria in France. As for the heels, he adds, "They can stock up energy needed for human movement."

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Coronavirus

In Shanghai, A Brewing Expat Exodus As COVID Crackdown Shows "Real" China

Not only strict rules of freedom of movement as part of Zero-COVID policy but also an increase in censorship has raised many questions for the expat population in the megacity of 26 million that had long enjoyed a kind of special status in China as a place of freedom and openness. A recent survey of foreigners in the Chinese megacity found that 48% of respondents said they would leave Shanghai within the next year.

People walk in Tianzifang, located in Huangpu District, a well-known tourist attraction in Shanghai.

Lili Bai

SHANGHAI — On the seventh day of the lockdown, Félix, a French expat who has worked in Shanghai for four years, texted his boss: I want to "run,' mais je sais pas quand (but I don’t know when). A minute later, he received a reply: moi aussi (me too).

Félix had recently learned the new Mandarin word 润 (run) from social network postings of his local friends. Because its pinyin “rùn” is the same as the English word “run,” Chinese youth had begun to use it to express their wish to escape reality, either to “be freed from mundane life”, or to “run toward your future.”

For foreigners like Félix, by associating the expression “run” with the feeling of the current lockdown in Shanghai, “everything makes sense.” Félix recalled how at the end of March, the government denied rumors of an impending lockdown: “My Chinese colleagues all said, Shanghai is China’s top city, there would be no lockdown no matter what.”

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