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Centipede is a poisonous animal with many legs that can bite and release poison to enemies.
Centipede is a poisonous animal with many legs that can bite and release poison to enemies.

A Robotic Centipede Is Not Just a Toy

It may be useful in agriculture because it replicates natural centipede skills at navigating rough ground or water

Georgia Tech biological physicist Daniel Goldman recently told a virtual meeting of the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology that he hopes to build a centipede robot.

A robot that riffed off the centipede, a carnivorous land-dwelling arthropod with a long body and many jointed legs, would look a little bit like this:

What would it be good for? Well, intense study by Goldman and his colleagues showed that centipedes have ways of overcoming obstacles that make them especially useful for agricultural tasks like planting, picking, and weeding, where they must constantly adapt to the landscape (land or water), which is something a lot of machines have difficulty with:

Here’s one of their papers on the topic.

Another approach, pioneered by electrical engineering prof Yasemin Ozkan-Aydin at the University of Notre Dame, is 3-D printed robotic “ants” that can link up to form a centipede:

Engineers at University of Notre Dame created a simple but effective swarm of six-inch ‘robot’ ants that were able to overcome obstacles and terrain individually, and link up to form longer chains when they couldn’t accomplish a task alone.

Each automaton was equipped with a micro-controller and a lithium polymer battery.

They also had a LED light sensor at the front for alerting the swarm and magnetic touch sensors at both ends that would allow them to link up with one another.

Dan Avery, “Engineers design 3D-printed robot ‘ants’ that can walk over leaves, link up like a centipede and call for help by themselves” at Daily Mail (November 8, 2021)

Ozkan-Aydin thinks their best use would be in space exploration though they might also have applications here on Earth, like Goldman’s centipedes. Although these robots might seem weird, they aren’t scary and probably won’t be programmed to bite people.

You may also wish to read about remarkable natural insect engineering:

When a tiny brain is actually an advantage Small size — which includes having a small brain — hones the ogre gnat’s remarkable neurological abilities. Natural algorithms may account for insect skills, enabling research that transforms a frustrating mystery into a fruitful one.

How do insects use their very small brains to think clearly? How do they engage in complex behaviour with only 100,000 to a million neurons? Researchers are finding that insects have a number of strategies for making the most of comparatively few neurons to enable complex behavior.


Neuroscience mystery: How do tiny brains enable complex behavior? Eric Cassell notes that insects with brains of only a million neurons exhibit principles found only in the most advanced manmade navigation systems. How? Cassell argues in his recent book that an algorithm model is best suited to understanding the insect mind — and that of many animals.

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A Robotic Centipede Is Not Just a Toy