New ideas in manufacturing come from many sources. Often they are inspired by animals. The jumping of the kangaroo, the flexibility of the octopus, and many more special capabilities of animals have led researchers in new directions as they think of new ways to use industrial automation to improve manufacturing. Usually, the locomotion of the animal is the inspiration for a new way of moving for a robot.
Wombat poo may be the first case in which it is the bowel movements of an animal rather than the movements of their limbs or muscles that provides the inspiration. Wombats produce tidy cubes of excrement rather than the more usual rounded shapes.
Researchers have discovered that the intestines of the wombat have a unique feature: toward the end of the intestines, they have alternating bands of soft tissue and firm tissue. Patricia Yang from Georgia Tech suggests that this unusual adaptation creates the unusual shape of the poo — and could do so for manufactured goods as well.
“We currently have only two methods to manufacture cubes,” says Yang. “We mold it, or we cut it. Now we have this third method. It would be a cool method to apply to the manufacturing process.”
Biologists specializing in wombats postulate that the dry environment in which the wombat lives is also a factor. Wombats have to squeeze every drop of liquid from their food to help keep hydrated. This is important for the wombat but not for the factory. Still, it might give more insight into the specific process wombat intestines use.
Wombats don’t plan the shape of their droppings. It’s a natural process using the physical energy of the wombat. In a factory, the motion would need to be provided by electricity and servo motors.
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