Robots don’t typically work the same way living things do. Instead of an intricate network of multifunctional parts, robots tend to be made of isolated components that each serve a single purpose, explains mechanical engineer Robert Shepherd of Cornell University, principal investigator of the new study. For instance, they might have one system to address power and another to control motion, which isn’t always efficient. By contrast, the human circulatory system is multifunctional: It pumps blood throughout our bodies and by doing so, it also helps regulate our body temperature and transports cells to fight off infections.
There are examples of circulatory systems in nature that are even more efficient than our own. In fact, Shepherd’s initial inspiration for the robo-lionfish wasn’t actually much of a swimmer. Rather, he was fascinated by the high-flying bar-tailed godwit, a migratory bird that he calls a “super athlete.” A godwit can fly for a week without stopping, but first doubles its weight in fat to prep for the flight.
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