For years, serious futurists could only imagine that robots, such as the television model, would always be stiff, clumsy, and prone to breakdown. This was before the advent of "Biomimetics," a research aimed at developing a new class of biologically inspired robots that exhibit much greater robustness in performance in unstructured environments than today's robots.
This new class of robots will be substantially more compliant and stable than current robots, and will take advantage of new developments in materials, fabrication technologies, sensors and actuators. Materials found in nature differ significantly from those found in human-made devices. Nature appears to design for "bending without breaking" and employs tissues that are compliant and viscoelastic rather than stiff, homogeneous, and isotropic. In addition, local variations in biological materials, tailored to meet local variations in loading, are common. The nonlinear, compliant, and inhomogeneous materials found in even the simplest animals provide them with a sophistication and robustness that today's robots cannot match. And it is hard to find an animal as simple as the cockroach.
Actually, the deathhead cockroach possesses legs with compliant muscles and skeletal components that increase dynamic stability and disturbance rejection. As the ability to analyze and fabricate mechanisms with compliant and functionally-graded materials improves, the opportunity exists to develop robots whose structures draw inspiration from simple animals such as insects and crustaceans. One fertile area for biomimetic design is the leg of walking or hopping robots, where leg compliance is especially important.