I saw an interesting post on the website for The Atlantic a few weeks ago about moth-driven robots. The idea is that nature has evolved elegant and effective solutions to problems that science and engineering are still struggling mightily with; in this case, the ability to track smells. Researchers at the University of Tokyo built a wheeled robot that could be driven by moths walking on a crude trackball (picture what was in your computer mouse in the dark ages before optical mice became common). The (male) moth-bots were placed in an obstacle course with female moth sex pheromones at the opposite end, towards which they made their way surprisingly quickly and effectively (even when the researchers biased the steering to always pull in one direction).

The moral of the story, other than the fact that moths have a very healthy libido, is that it may be possible to harness features of nature that cannot yet easily be replicated artificially. For instance, tracking environmental spills to their source is one potential immediate application in the tracking realm, and the concept can easily be stretched to any number of other fields. Godzilla would be wise to beware – perhaps next time Mothra will bring some new toys to the fight.

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