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Friday, August 15, 2014

Zoobots: Wild Robots Inspired by Real Animals. Written by Helaine Becker and illustrated by Alex Ries. Kids Can Press, 2014. $18.95 ages 10 and up

"The Shrewbot, like its Etruscan pygmy shrew "ancestor," can move its snout independently of its body. This allows its whiskers to 'sweep" a wide area and home in on its target. Each whisker can also move on its own, giving the Shrewbot's 
nose even more flexibility and sniff range. Because it can detect and identify objects through "active touch", the Shrewbot can be sent places where visual surveillance is otherwise impossible, such as dark or smoke-filled rooms."

Imagine the worth of such creations! There are twelve zoobots described in this amazing book. Each is at some stage of development; conceptual at this point, or already a working model. The range is exceptional and each of the twelve is shared in an efficiently designed double page spread filled with basic information such as the name and the development team, the specifications, realm, applications, evolution and its special operations. A status update reveals most are working prototypes and a few are in development.

Taking inspiration from the animal kingdom, the robots are sure to inspire interest as they are created to copy some of the characteristics of creatures that will be mostly familiar to you. The only one that I had heard nothing about was the black ghost knifefish:

"This dark dweller of the deep doesn't have the familiar fins of a common fish. Instead, the black ghost knifefish gets its name from a single, rippling fin along its belly. With extreme precision, the
knifefish  can slide through the murky waters of the Amazon and sneak up on prey from virtually any direction -vertically, horizontally, and diagonally. The black ghost knifefish can then stun its unsuspecting prey with a self-generated electrical charge, making it doubly deadly."

There are many anticipated uses for the bots as they are fine-tuned and prepared for use in the military, fire fighting, inaccessible spaces, oil spills, ecological monitoring. I'll bet that you have not seen many of them before, and that makes the book even more intriguing.

Graphic illustrations by Alex Ries complete the picture by bringing the robots to life for readers. The design is laid out to make it easy to get the information they want and need. Anyone interested in the fields of mechanical or electrical engineering, biology, zoology and technology is sure to be inspired by what is being done today. We can only make guesses for what the future holds. I was totally amazed at every turn of the page, and engrossed in learning as much as Helaine Becker is willing to share.

Included are a table of contents, glossary, index and some thoughts about the future of such inspired inventions. 

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