Special section on biomimetics of movement

Bioinspir Biomim. 2011 Dec;6(4):040201. doi: 10.1088/1748-3182/6/4/040201. Epub 2011 Nov 29.


Movement in biology is an essential aspect of survival for many organisms, animals and plants. Implementing movement efficiently to meet specific needs is a key attribute of natural living systems, and can provide ideas for man-made developments. If we had to find a subtitle able to essentially convey the aim of this special section, it could read as follows: 'taking inspiration from nature for new materials, actuators, structures and controls for systems that move'. Our world is characterized by a huge variety of technical, engineering systems that move. They surround us in countless products that integrate actuators for different kinds of purposes. Basically, any kind of mechatronic system, such as those used for consumer products, machines, vehicles, industrial systems, robots, etc, is based on one or more devices that move, according to different implementations and motion ranges, often in response to external and internal stimuli. Despite this, technical solutions to develop systems that move do not evolve very quickly as they rely on traditional and well consolidated actuation technologies, which are implemented according to known architectures and with established materials. This fact limits our capability to overcome challenges related to the needs continuously raised by new fields of application, either at small or at large scales. Biomimetics-based approaches may provide innovative thinking and technologies in the field, taking inspiration from nature for smart and effective solutions. In an effort to disseminate current advances in this field, this special section collects some papers that cover different topics. A brief synopsis of the content of each contribution is presented below. The first paper, by Lienhard et al [1], deals with bioinspiration for the realization of structural parts in systems that passively move. It presents a bioinspired hingeless flapping mechanism, considered as a solution to the kinematics of deployable systems for architectural structures. The approach relies on structural elasticity to replace the need for local hinges. To this end, the authors have used fibre-reinforced polymers combining high tensile strength with low bending stiffness. The solution favours lower structural complexity as well as higher design versatility. Bioinspiration from the elastic kinetics of plants is a central pillar of the paper, which highlights the interrelation of form, actuation and kinematics in those natural systems. The second paper, by Nakata et al [2], deals with bioinspired systems that actively move, and, more specifically, fly. The paper is about the aerodynamics of a bio-inspired flexible flapping-wing micro air vehicle conceived to fly in a Reynolds number regime used by most natural flyers, including insects, bats and birds. The paper presents a study of the flexible wing aerodynamics of the flapping vehicle by combining an in-house computational fluid dynamic model with wind tunnel experiments. In particular, the developed model is shown to be able to predict unsteady aerodynamics in terms of vortex and wake structures and their relationship with aerodynamic force generation. Simulations are validated by wind tunnel experiments, confirming the effectiveness of the adopted design solutions, as well as the importance of wing flexibility in designing small flapping-wing vehicles. The third paper, by Annunziata et al [3], deals with bioinspired control strategies for systems that move. In particular, the paper describes approaches to increase the stiffness variability in multi-muscle driven joints. Different strategies for simultaneous control of torque and stiffness in a hinge joint actuated by two antagonistic muscle pairs are presented. The proposed strategies combine torque and stiffness control by co-activation with approaches based on activation overflow and inverse modelling. Extensive simulations are performed and described to assess the control efficacy. In the fourth paper, Merker et al [4] present a study on stable walking with asymmetric legs. The authors are concerned with the need to clarify to what extent differences in the leg function of contralateral limbs can be tolerated during walking or running. A bipedal spring-mass model simulating walking with compliant legs is used to show that even remarkable differences between contralateral legs can not only be tolerated, but may also introduce advantages to the robustness of the system dynamics. This study might contribute to shedding light on the stability of asymmetric leg walking, including the potential benefits of asymmetry, with possible implications for design of prosthetic or orthotic systems. The last two papers of this special section deal with active bioinspired systems driven by new actuators made of smart materials. In particular, the paper authored by Rossi et al [5] presents an underwater fish-like robot based on bending structures driven by shape memory alloys. These kinds of actuators are used to bend the backbone of the fish, which in turn causes a change in the curvature of the fish body. The paper describes the mechanisms by which standard swimming patterns can be reproduced with the proposed design, and show characterizations in terms of the actuation speed and position accuracy of prototype systems. The last paper, by Carpi et al [6], presents an overview on ionic- and electronic-type electromechanically active polymer actuators as artificial muscles for bioinspired applications. The electrical responsiveness and numerous functional and structural properties that these materials and actuators have in common with natural muscles are shown to be the key motivation by which they are studied as artificial muscles for a huge variety of possible uses. The authors describe the fundamental aspects of relevant technologies and emphasize how after several years of basic research, electromechanically active polymer actuators are today facing their important initial transition from academia into commercialization. In conclusion, we hope that the selection of papers in this special section might help to provide readers with a balanced overview, through examples on the relevant fundamental aspects, materials, actuators, structures, controls and on their effective integration, in order to develop approaches which will be successful in 'taking inspiration from nature for systems that move'. References [1] Lienhard J, Schleicher S, Poppinga S, Masselter T, Milwich M, Speck T and Knippers J 2011 Flectofin: a hingeless flapping mechanism inspired by nature Bioinsp. Biomim. 6 045001 [2] Nakata T, Liu H, Tanaka Y, Nishihashi N, Wang X and Sato A 2011 Aerodynamics of a bio-inspired flexible flapping-wing micro air vehicle Bioinsp. Biomim. 6 045002 [3] Annunziata S, Paskarbeit J and Schneider A 2011 Novel bioinspired control approaches to increase the stiffness variability in multi-muscle driven joints Bioinsp. Biomim. 6 045003 [4] Merker A, Rummel J and Seyfarth A 2011 Stable walking with asymmetric legs Bioinsp. Biomim. 6 045004 [5] Rossi C, Colorado J, Coral W and Barrientos A 2011 Bending continuous structures with SMAs: a novel robotic fish design Bioinsp. Biomim. 6 045005 [6] Carpi F, Kornbluh R, Sommer-Larsen P and Alici G 2011 Electroactive polymer actuators as artificial muscles: are they ready for bioinspired applications? Bioinsp. Biomim. 6 045006.