David L. Hu

 

On his book How to Walk on Water and Climb up Walls: Animal Movement and the Robots of the Future

Cover Interview of March 27, 2019

Lastly

The topics in this book have potential applications in the field of robotics.

Robots have long been relegated to perform repetitive tasks such as assembling parts of a car in factories. In the future, however, robots will leave the factories and enter our everyday lives. Many of the environments that need robots are outdoor environments, such as the open ocean and the sandy surface of Mars. Designing machines to tackle many of these environments can be difficult, due to the physics of the varying medium which still cannot be well predicted on computers.

One shortcut to designing machines that can move with speed and good gas mileage is by looking at how animals move through these environments. To traverse natural terrain, robots may need multiple legs like an insect, or no legs at all like a snake. Robots that successfully traverse outdoor environments are already showing resemblance to the animals that make this place their home. This is because the laws of physics pose unbreakable constraints that influence what kind of motion is most effective.

This book has been a big hit among young audiences. Animal motion is one of the most accessible and interesting subjects around. And it applies to multiple subject areas such as physics, biology, and material science to satisfy anyone’s curiosity. In the book, I spend equal time going through the science behind the discoveries as well as the excitement and thought process of the scientists at work. I hope this book shows that science can be fun and that anyone can be a scientist.