With Apologies to PZ Myers: Not one penny for tribute, unlimited sums for mechanical cephalopods.

The next episode of Friday Newton blogging is going to have to wait for an off-day edition; end of term woes and committee meetings have sucked up all the time I was going to spend putting together my material on Newton’s gambling habits.

But what would Friday be without some rather off-axis look at science in the public square?

So, stealing a patch of PZ Myers turf, I thought I’d share what I picked up from my MIT colleague Anette Hosoi a few weeks ago.

Hosoi’s lab uses biological sources to provide inspiration for the creation of small robots; Hosoi and her group are most famous for their work on a robotic snail. (Video, courtesy of my students in the Graduate Program in Science Writing, can be found here— bottom of the page, after two videos on the humanoid robot, Domo.

As it happened, I was taking around a visitor the other day — the incomparable David Macaualay. (Name dropping alert — at least for those of us sufficiently steeped in geek to know the wonderfulness of Macaulay’s books and films on engineering, the made world, design, the brain and pigeon’s eye-views of Rome.)

Professor Hosoi and her students were in fine form, showing us the latest in mechanical swimmers, the updates to the artificial slime on which the labs’ snails crawl and so on. Last up was a student new to me since the last time I hung out over there. Her project…well it seems that the Department of Defense’s wild eyed boys and girls at DARPA got a look at this video

Someone over there said “I want me one of these.”

So Hosoi’s team, among others are now trying to deliver a design for, a robotic octopus, a deformable robot capable of carrying a payload — sensors, weapons, whatever — into and out of the tightest spots evah. Your defense dollars at work.

What can I say? Actually, it’s a sweet, rich problem, with all kinds of potential applications in peace as well as war. If Hosoi or any one else responding to DOD’s prompt comes up with a good solution, it will have confronted a number of serious physics and engineering hurdles to get there; this is the kind of problem folks come to places like MIT to research.

What’s really going on is something PZ has known for years: we are humbled by the powers of the mighty cephalopod. Besides which, this is a hell of a lot better way to spend my tax dollars than on ESP, trained naval warfare dophins, and ballistic missile defense.

Explore posts in the same categories: Cool Animals, Fauna, geek humor, Oceans, random humor, seriously, War

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One Comment on “With Apologies to PZ Myers: Not one penny for tribute, unlimited sums for mechanical cephalopods.”


  1. […] The Inverse Square Blog science and the public square — by thomas levenson « With Apologies to PZ Myers: Not one penny for tribute, unlimited sums for mechanical cephalopod… […]


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