Beavers preparing robots for space exploration; what is going on at the UB engineering department?

Posted at 11:26 PM, Jul 03, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-03 23:27:05-04

Alongside a rushing creek may be the perfect spot for inspiration to strike. But it's in a creek where researchers at the University at Buffalo found their inspiration. 

Over the past two years Assistant Professor Nils Napp and his team of PhD engineering students programed what looks a remote-control car with a crane to build ramps. Their creation is called Castor. It's an autonomous robot that excels at picking up bean bags and putting them in place. There's a reason Castor is called Castor. Its name is Latin for beaver.

“One of the inspirations for this project was beavers,” said Napp.

Castor is programed to think the same way a beaver does when making a dam. When a beaver finds a stick it can find the perfect spot to place it on the dam. The rodents can build as they go. There is no master plan. That’s something that is tough for autonomous robots to understand, especially in rugged environments.

Napp and his team hope their work is the foundation for all sorts of robots, from space exploration to life-saving first-responders.

“It will be able to go into some disaster zones, go over some rubbly area and build ramps that would allow both the robot to reach people or target locations in the environment and also build other ramps for robots or people,” explained Napp.

This isn't the first time technology has copied nature. And the UB researchers don't think it will be the last. In fact, they're always looking to nature to make robots better.

“Figuring out why they work so well and then trying to take those ideas and map them to engineered systems,” said Napp.

Castor doesn't look like a beaver, but it thinks like one. And that's a big deal for the future of autonomous robotics.

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