In our latest installment of Meet a Biomimic, meet Dan Quinn, a researcher at the University of Virginia who is pioneering new ways of designing underwater and aerial robots by mimicking how fish and birds move. Read on to learn more about Dan’s research and check out this video to see his work in action.
What is your current job and how do you incorporate biomimicry into your work or life?
I’m an assistant professor at the University of Virginia. My lab – the Fluid-Structure Interaction Lab studies how underwater and aerial robots can be made more efficient and maneuverable. One way we do that is by implementing swimming and flying techniques that we see fish and birds using in nature. For example, we design and build fish-inspired robots that use fins to propel themselves and maneuver through tight spaces. Our goal is to inspire new generations of robotics that are cheaper, quieter, more maneuverable, and more efficient.
How are you making an impact?
The advantages of studying bio-inspired vehicles are twofold: 1) we get a better understanding of biomechanics and evolutionary biology, and 2) we open up design concepts for highly maneuverable robots. First, our research can help to explain what fin/wing shapes are ideal for efficiency and maneuverability and can offer hypotheses for why fish and birds may have evolved the way they have. Second, our research offers design strategies for ultra-maneuverable robots, which could change the way we think about search-and-rescue, mapping, and product delivery.
What kind of people are you looking to collaborate with?
Studying bio-inspired vehicles is inherently multi-disciplinary, so we’re constantly looking for collaborators. Biomechanicians and marine biologists, for example, understand how fish propel themselves and integrate with their environment. Engineers specializing in control theory understand what algorithms are necessary for fish to turn, accelerate, and swim straight. As a fluid mechanician, I strive to collaborate with these types of scientists; only together can we design truly successful bio-inspired vehicles.
If you could have any biomimetic superpower, what would it be and why?
My ideal biomimetic super power would be the ability to climb walls like a gecko. I love rock climbing, but I can only climb cliffs that are sufficiently rough. Being able to stick to smooth walls would mean I could climb any surface anywhere.
What is your favorite quote?
“We shall never cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” – T. S. Eliot
The Meet a Biomimic video above was created to support the EcoRise/Biomimicry Institute biomimicry curriculum for high school students. If you’re an educator and want to learn more about how to incorporate biomimicry into your courses, check out this free Biomimicry Global Design Challenge curriculum module and the full Biomimicry and Science curriculum.