Reptiles have a very long history starting almost 320 million years ago. Today, reptiles inhabit every continent except Antarctica. With crocodiles, lizards or snakes, they are loved as well as feared by many people. Reptiles’ cold-bloodedness and the constitution of their bodies lead to the very specific movements which can be very realistically imitated by the modern generation of the robotic technology. However, don’t get it wrong. It’s not easy at all to precisely simulate the reptile’s movements and it takes state-of-the-art, first class robotics to achieve the high level of realism.
The development of such robots is not only an academic exercising of our technical possibilities. Crocodiles or lizards made of motors (one robotic reptile used today can use as much as 24 motors in its body), wires, carbon fibers, small cameras and many other parts can be very useful. Recently, the BBC crew used them during the work on an episode of „Spy in the Wild“ documentary show which was filmed in Africa. Real animals considered the robots to be another living creatures they know very well. Because of it, they did not fear them and as an ultimate consequence – they did not fly away. That is why such the amazing shots were made and we can now admire them.
So, what other purposes can the robotic reptiles serve? At first, it is definitely the scientific research. Zoologists and biologists are now able to make great pictures or films from the point-blank range and therefore, they will be able to study the animals without any interfering which could affect the behavior of the animals. As the other reason why it is important to have robotic reptiles as realistic as possible is the biomechanical research. With robots which move more or less in the same way as the real animals, you have the perfect simulation tool for the study of those movements: how this type of movements work in the real environment? Or it can be useful in the research taken from the other side: if there are differences between simulated and therefore perfectly known movements and the real ones, what does it tell us about those?
As you can see, the possibilities are many. But every coin has two sides and as any other tool, this one can be used for the less noble goals as well. Imagine how easy can it be to spy on anyone with the robotic animal identical to the real one? And it can carry not only a camera but maybe a bomb also (OK, the crocodile is not the best robotic terrorist but in the case of lizard… no one will pay attention to it when it will approach the crowd). Certainly, on the other hand, the army (I mean the good guys) can profit from the realistic robots too.
We still didn’t talk about one controversial usage of the realistic robot reptiles – as pets. On one hand, it is true that it can be quite dangerous to have a pet crocodile at home, especially with children or more traditional pets like cats and dogs. Realistically looking crocodile robot walking in a garden or swimming in a garden pond can be a nice and exciting decoration (not to mention the prank possibilities…) to your home but do we really want this? Using robots instead of real animals for such purposes is a sign that something is wrong. It suggests that we are more and more reserved in our relationship with nature and that we consider it to be more and more useless. It this approach will really prevail, it will be our greatest mistake which can even turn deadly for us. We are part of nature and if we will forget it, we will pay the price.
As you can see, the applications of the ultra-realistic animals are almost limitless. But we should not forget our responsibilities. Therefore, let’s hope that these automatic steel and carbon creatures with a latex skin will serve the science extensively but that they won’t be used for any wrongdoing and that they will never replace the real, living reptiles made of flesh and blood because those are still should mean much more for us.
Header photo by Arseny Togulev