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Animals Have Moves Engineering Only Dreams Of

A hawk moth hovering
A hawk moth hovering and feeding from a flower.
(Image: © Armin Hinterwirth, University of Washington)

This Research in Action article was provided to Live Science in partnership with the National Science Foundation.

A hawk moth in flight with proboscis extended. (Image credit: Daniel Lab, University of Washington)

Animals sense and react to their surrounding world with rapid, controlled maneuvers that exceed the current capabilities of human engineering. They maneuver via changes in the sequence of motor commands that their brains send to their muscles. By first recording and then altering these commands, researchers are learning how the brains and bodies of animals cooperate to create the versatile motions we see in nature. The resulting knowledge may help engineers improve the designs of remote, distributed sensors and actuators, biologically-inspired robotics and brain-machine interfaces.

The images you see here were captured by the researchers investigating how animals process information related to movement and execution of maneuvers. In the first image, you see a hawk moth hovering and feeding from a flower. In the final image, a hovering hawk moth feeds — and moves with — a robotically actuated flower.

A hovering hawk moth feeding from a robotically actuated flower. (Image credit: Simon Sponberg, University of Washington)

Click here and here to learn more about this National Science Foundation-supported research, which is led by Simon Sponberg of the University of Washington.

Editor's Note: Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. See the Research in Action archive.