Skip navigation
Hardcover | Out of Print | 240 pp. | 6 x 9 in | 103 b&w illus. | August 2010 | ISBN: 9780262014526
Mouseover for Online Attention Data

How to Catch a Robot Rat

When Biology Inspires Innovation
Translated by Susan Emanuel


Humans have modeled their technology on nature for centuries. The inventor of paper was inspired by a wasp’s nest; Brunelleschi demonstrated the principles of his famous dome with an egg; a Swiss company produced a wristwatch with an alarm modeled on the sound-producing capabilities of a cricket. Today, in the era of the “new bionics,” engineers aim to reproduce the speed and maneuverability of the red tuna in a submarine; cochlear implants send sound signals to the auditory nerve of a hearing-impaired person; and robots replicate a baby’s cognitive development. How to Catch a Robot Rat examines past, present, and future attempts to apply the methods and systems found in nature to the design of objects and devices.

The authors look at “natural technology transfers”: how the study of nature inspired technological breakthroughs—including the cricket-inspired watch; Velcro, which duplicates the prickly burrs of a burdock flower; and self-sharpening blades that are modeled on rats’ self-sharpening teeth. They examine autonomous robots that imitate animals and their behaviors—for example, the development of an unmanned microdrone that could fly like an albatross. And they describe hybrids of natural and artificial systems: neuroprostheses translating the thought of quadriplegics; and a nanorobot controlled by muscle cells. Some of the ideas described have outstripped technology’s capacity to realize them; nature has had more than three billion years to perfect its designs, humankind not quite so long.

About the Authors

Agnès Guillot is Assistant Professor in Psychophysiology at the University of Paris X and a researcher at the Institute of Intelligent Systems and Robotics, University Pierre and Marie Curie, Paris.

Jean-Arcady Meyer is Emeritus Research Director at CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique) and a researcher at the Institute of Intelligent Systems and Robotics, University Pierre and Marie Curie, Paris.

Table of Contents

  • How to Catch a Robot Rat
  • How to Catch a Robot Rat
  • When Biology Inspires Innovation
  • Agnès Guillot and Jean-Arcady Meyer
  • Translated by Susan Emanuel
  • The MIT Press
  • Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • London, England
  • To Agathe,
  • So that she may take care of this planet
  • On which so many marvels are evolving
  • © 2010
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Originally published in French as
  • La bionique: Quand la science imite la Nature
  • by Dunod, 2008, Paris.
  • All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording, or information storage and retrieval) without permission in writing from the publisher.
  • For information about special quantity discounts, please email special_sales
  • This book was set in Stone Sans and Stone Serif by Toppan Best-set Premedia Limited.
  • Printed and bound in the United States of America.
  • Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
  • Guillot, Agnès, 1946–
  • [Bionique. English]
  • How to catch a robot rat : when biology inspires innovation / Agnès Guillot and Jean-Arcady Meyer ; translated by Susan Emanuel.
  •  p. cm.
  • Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • ISBN 978-0-262-01452-6 (hardcover : alk. paper) 1. Bionics. I. Meyer, Jean-Arcady.  II. Title.
  • Q320.G7813 2010
  • 600—dc22
  • 2009054313
  • 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction xi
  • I Structures, Processes, Materials 1
  • 1 Nature-Technology Transfers
  • :
  • From Artisanry to Industry 3
  • 2 Structures 9
  • 3 Processes 27
  • 4 Materials 43
  • II Behaviors 53
  • 5 From Automata to Animats 55
  • 6 Effective Actuators 75
  • 7 Amazing Sensors 89
  • 8 “Wired” Control Architectures 99
  • 9 Robotic Learning 111
  • 10 Robotic Development and Evolution 129
  • III Hybrids 157
  • 11 From Prostheses to Cyberprostheses 159
  • 12 Hybridizing the Artificial 163
  • 13 Hybridizing the Living 177
  • Conclusion 199
  • Epilogue 207
  • Notes 209
  • Further Information 215
  • Index 217


““In summary, this is an excellent and thought-provoking book. It is highly recommended to anyone interested in current and potential ways of incorporating biological principles into the design of new machines and systems.”—G.A. Bekey, Computing Reviews”—


““Over the last twenty-five years, a subset of computational and robotics researchers around the world have taken to studying biological creatures in order to figure out how to build robots. And at the same time the constraints they have discovered in building robots have been used to illuminate how the biological systems must work. Guillot and Meyer have been both intellectual and organizational leaders in this field, and in How to Catch a Robot Rat they carefully document the history and intellectual currents of the field.”—Rodney Brooks, MIT”
““Superbly narrated and richly illustrated, this book is an excellent place to learn how robots are starting to take a life of their own that will ultimately improve ours. The authors, two pioneers in the field of bio-inspired robotics, frame the most recent and future developments into the history of man's attempt to create lifelike machines.”—Dario Floreano, Director of the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL)”