Bio-inspired robotics rely on the use of fundamental biological principles translated into engineering design rules to create a robot that performs like a natural system [SM18]. Bio-hybrid robots are created when biological material is directly used to design synthetic machines. Science robotics [SM18] show that the list of grand challenges for bio-robotics has remained largely unchanged over the past 30 years, consisting of batteries that match metabolic conversion, muscle-like actuators, self-healing material that manufactures itself, autonomy in any environment, human-like perception, and, ultimately, computation and reasoning. To accelerate the design, implementation and operation of bio-inspired and bio-hybrid robots requires the development of:

  • materials that couple sensing, actuation, computation, and communication
  • novel designs of heterogeneous, anisotropic, hierarchical, multifunctional materials (increasing material strength, stiffness, and flexibility, fracture toughness, wear resistance, and energy absorption)
  • models of real-world, unstructured environments that can cope with the staggering complexity of how bioinspired robots effectively interact with the ground [SM18].

These advances provide robots with features such as body support, weight reduction, impact protection, morphological computation, and mobility.

Actuation and energy limit the performance of bio-hybrid and bio-inspired robots compared with animals. New technologies such as electromagnetic motors and artificial muscles are inefficient (particularly at small scales or in soft systems) and lack robustness [SM18]. Bio-inspired pick and place manipulation, and grasping, has seen significant progress, but no system matches the flexibility and dexterity of human hands. Miniaturisation of aerial vehicles relies on replicating biology as 1-2 centimetre wingspans must use flapping wings (fixed wings do not generate the required lift at practical air speeds). Small microflyers are now being equipped with compact lightweight miniature, insect-style compound eyes and might also use insect-like legs and feet to land on uneven surfaces [SM18]. While there has been progress in engineering miniature, biologically inspired robots, power is still a challenge. An alternative is to autonomously control animals to carry scientific payloads (for example, control of insects has been demonstrated) turning them into high-performance long-range flying robots [SM18].