When speaking of solutions like SlothBot, the relevant word is “biomimetic.” The journal Nature defines biomimetics as “the synthesis of materials, synthetic systems or machines that have functions that mimic biological processes.” In short, it’s a philosophy of engineering that imitates biological systems.

Biomimetics has probably infiltrated your life already. The last time you pulled apart a piece of Velcro, the Library of Congress states, you availed yourself of a 50s-vintage imitation of the fasteners on plant burrs. We previously reported on an Airbus concept for a gas/electric hybrid airliner based on birds of prey, complete with adjustable “feathers.” A widely used surgical glue uses an adhesive structure based on gecko feet, per the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. The list goes on.

Georgia Tech’s thesis is that biomimetic systems are particularly suited to conservation roles. The design team built a robot based on a sloth because they expected to deploy it in an ecosystem where a sloth would thrive.

Hence, SlothBot. SlothBot works both because a slow-moving arboreal platform is ideal for collecting a wide range of climate data and because its ecosystem by definition already has a sloth-shaped hole in it. Silly as it might seem, a robot sloth really does represent a potent new way to observe endangered ecosystems by mimicking animals that belong there.

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