Bio-mimics and bio-copycats

On BotJunkie I came across this robotic fish video. The fish, from the University of Essex, is a careful model in form and behavior of a real fish. The idea is that nature has already created a great design, and we can benefit from simply copying it. According to BotJunkie, the robofish will monitor pollution levels off the coast of Spain.

Bio-mimicry is compelling, but I wonder if it’s sometimes overdone. The materials we have at our disposal are very different from those available to growing fish, and many of the constraints that operate on fish don’t apply to robots. Compare the above robotic fish with the underwater robots being built by iRobots new underwater group, beasts like the Seaglider and the Ranger. It may well be that slavish bio-mimicry isn’t a good all-purpose strategy.