How to Catch a Robot Rat

How to Catch a Robot Rat

When Biology Inspires Innovation

By Agnès Guillot and Jean-Arcady Meyer

Translated by Susan Emanuel

How biology has inspired technology—from a watch with an alarm modeled on a cricket's noisemaking to a robot that can dance.





How biology has inspired technology—from a watch with an alarm modeled on a cricket's noisemaking to a robot that can dance.

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.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262014526 240 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 103 b&w illus.


Susan Emanuel.


  • 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


  • 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)