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CNN’s ‘Tech for Good’ explores the world of nature-inspired technology

PRNewswire August 24, 2022

HONG KONG, Aug. 24, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — Millions of years of animal evolution have resulted in the development of many biological features that have helped different species adapt and survive. Increasingly, scientists and researchers are taking note of these intelligent features – and have begun looking to nature to unlock greater potential in our technologies through bio-inspired engineering. On the next episode of ‘Tech for Good’, CNN anchor and correspondent Kristie Lu Stout explores the cutting-edge technologies inspired by nature that could someday solve some of the world’s most pressing problems.

First up, the programme hears from Adrian Thomas, a professor of biomechanics and the co-founder of Animal Dynamics, a company which looks to animals for inspiration to improve engineering designs in a variety of vehicles and systems. The company’s first vehicle was the Skeeter, a winged micro-drone based on the biomechanics of the dragonfly. Thomas and his team also created an underwater vehicle called the Raydrive, which is inspired by the movement of manta rays. But perhaps the company’s most influential piece of tech is the Stork STM drone, a vehicle inspired by bird wings that the company says can be used to provide humanitarian aid in situations that would be too dangerous for manned aircraft. 

Photosynthesis is responsible for 99% of the energy supply for life on earth, so there is perhaps no better place to start looking for future renewable energy than adapting the processes plants do so effortlessly. CNN meets Bradley Brennan, chief science officer for Dimensional Energy, a New York-based startup with ambitions to create a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels by transforming carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, in much the same way plants do during photosynthesis. Brennan explains that the company is currently focused on making sustainable jet fuel, because aviation is one of the hardest sectors to decarbonize.

It’s then off to Stanford University, where mechanical engineers are developing biomedical robots powered by magnets and inspired by the movement of octopus arms – generally regarded as one of the most flexible limbs in nature. Lu Stout introduces Renee Zhao, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford, who is working on the designs for a new robotic arm that mimics these movements and could be used to help intubate patients in emergency rooms. The arm is only one of several designs Zhao and her team are developing that could have broad biomedical applications. She is also working on a so-called ‘crawler robot’, a tiny device inspired by the movement of earthworms that could help medicines target pain in the human body more effectively. 

Finally, a team of engineers at the University of Southern California, led by Professor Francisco Valero-Cuevas, is designing a generation of robots called ‘Kleo’ that can teach themselves to walk with the gait of an actual animal. Instead of simply programming a certain set of actions, the team has given Kleo simulated neurons that mimic the way information is sent to the spinal cord of a living being. A motor learns which neural connections can trigger a desired outcome, in this case, walking. Meanwhile, Quan Nguyen, assistant professor at the university, and his team are developing robots that can overcome obstacles found in nature, like a change in incline. Nguyen’s team saw its work come to life in a real-world setting during the pandemic, when their robots were sent to disinfect classrooms.

Tech for Good trailer: https://bit.ly/3KbbfRW 
Tech for Good images: https://bit.ly/3du24Q9 
Tech for Good microsite: https://cnn.it/3PB5DSq 

Airtimes for 30-minute special:
Saturday, 27th August at 12:30pm HKT
Sunday, 28th August at 12:30am, 11:00am and 6:00pm HKT

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