Imitating nature is a lot harder than it looks. Early aircraft inspired by birds literally failed to take off, and it’s only recently that we’ve seen humans make flapping, flying robots. Creating a machine that moves like a fish is hard; much easier to bypass how nature did it and just use a boat, as humans have done for centuries. But with soft robotics, the rigid constraints of construction no longer constrain human designers. Instead, we can see flapping, swimming machines, a rough draft at mechanical manta rays.

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