Scientists have made enough animal robots to fill a terrifying zoo

Image: AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
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Mimicking nature in design is a growing trend, in part because nature got a lot of things right. Toys that look, purr, or bark like their animal inspiration have been around for a while. But in just the last few months, engineers from across the world have created a wide range of much more sophisticated robots, ones that could fill a somewhat terrifying zoo or aquarium.

Here’s a list of animals that may inhabit the zoos of the future, or perhaps be the last thing you see during the robot uprising.


This robot cheetah, developed by MIT, is not as fast an actual cheetah, but it can clear obstacles in its path up to 2 ft tall in one leap. There will be nowhere to hide from this robot (unless you put something 3 ft tall in front of it).


Like a more docile version of MIT’s robot, the Google-owned Boston Dynamics built Spot. It probably won’t stay so mellow for that long, however, if its creators continue to kick it.


This robot, called ATRIAS and built by engineers at Oregon State University, was given the ostrich nickname based on its gait, which is somewhat similar to the large flightless bird’s. ATRIAS appears to be even more abused than Spot: its developers have kicked it repeatedly, and thrown dodgeballs at it for some reason.

Perhaps the engineers have a lot of pent-up aggression they need to work through. Let’s hope the ATRIAS doesn’t.


Designed by engineers at the University of Illinois, this robot bat drone will one day hover over construction sites to determine whether work is proceeding as planned. It would also make a great addition to Wayne Manor.


The Black Hornet drone is, terrifyingly, about the size of a hummingbird, and being tested by The US army. Created by Norway’s Prox Dynamics, the  pocket-sized drone can fly for about 25 minutes, and carries both thermal and regular cameras. It does not sting.


This octopus-inspired robot is only about 1 cm (0.39 inches) wide. Popular Science reports that engineers at Iowa State University developed the tiny robot to preform delicate tasks with its tentacles, such as working on blood vessels. But for some reason they decided to show off what the robot octopus can do by strangling an ant.


Also from the University of Illinois team working on the bat drone, this plane-shaped bot actually mimics the way that birds land. The wings are articulated, allowing them to pull back as the robot comes in for a landing.


robo pingu
Image: Nature/Rovers minimize human disturbance in research on wild animals

While this robot rover can’t swim, dive for fish, or dance, the Guardian reported emperor penguins believed it was one of their own. Researchers published a paper in Nature Methods in November, which said that penguins were more relaxed when they dressed up an observational robot as a baby penguin.