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Academic & Professional Books  Organismal to Molecular Biology  Animals: Vertebrate Zoology

How to Walk on Water and Climb up Walls Animal Movement and the Robots of the Future

Popular Science Nature Writing New
By: David L Hu(Author)
236 pages, 8 plates with 12 colour photos; 33 b/w photos and illustrations
How to Walk on Water and Climb up Walls is a light and amusing romp at the intersection of animal locomotion and robotics, featuring some remarkable case studies.
How to Walk on Water and Climb up Walls
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  • How to Walk on Water and Climb up Walls ISBN: 9780691204161 Paperback Mar 2020 Usually dispatched within 4 days
  • How to Walk on Water and Climb up Walls ISBN: 9780691169866 Hardback Dec 2018 In stock
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About this book

Insects walk on water, snakes slither, and fish swim. Animals move with astounding grace, speed, and versatility; how do they do it, and what can we learn from them? In How to Walk on Water and Climb up Walls, David Hu takes readers on an accessible, wondrous journey into the world of animal motion. From basement labs at MIT to the rain forests of Panama, Hu shows how animals have adapted and evolved to traverse their environments, taking advantage of physical laws with results that are startling and ingenious. In turn, the latest discoveries about animal mechanics are inspiring scientists to invent robots and devices that move with similar elegance and efficiency.

Hu follows scientists as they investigate a multitude of animal movements, from the undulations of sandfish and the way that dogs shake off water in fractions of a second to the seemingly crash-resistant characteristics of insect flight. Not limiting his exploration to individual organisms, Hu describes the ways animals enact swarm intelligence, such as when army ants cooperate and link their bodies to create bridges that span ravines. He also looks at what scientists learn from nature's unexpected feats-such as snakes that fly, mosquitoes that survive rainstorms, and dead fish that swim upstream. As researchers better understand such issues as energy, flexibility, and water repellency in animal movement, they are applying this knowledge to the development of cutting-edge technology.

Integrating biology, engineering, physics, and robotics, How to Walk on Water and Climb up Walls demystifies the remarkable mechanics behind animal locomotion.

Customer Reviews (1)

  • Amusing romp through animal locomotion & robotics
    By Leon (NHBS Catalogue Editor) 14 Aug 2019 Written for Hardback

    Animals move in many different ways – hopping, gliding, flying, slithering, walking, swimming, etc. their way through our world. Studying how they do this brings together biologists, engineers, and physicists in disciplines such as biomechanics, bioengineering and robotics. Author David L. Hu, for example, is a professor of mechanical engineering and biology. How to Walk on Water and Climb up Walls is a light and amusing romp through the many remarkable forms of animal locomotion, and the equally remarkable experiments that are informing the robots of the future, although it leaves out some notable examples.

    Hu’s entry into this world was water striders and the question of how they move on the water surface. But first, how do they even stand on water? One recurrent theme in a book like this is scaling. The physical rules of the world operate differently at different scales, and, as Hu mentions, small animals are sensitive to forces we would find negligible (see also my review of Scale, and pop-science introductions such as Why Size Matters and Nature's Giants). At their size, water striders benefit from surface tension and the microscopic hairs that cover their legs making it even easier to stand on the water surface. But the question of how they gain the traction to start moving on such a surface was a paradox. Hu describes his observations on live water striders, and his attempts to mimic their movement with a mechanical water strider.

    This introduction sets the tone for the book. In eight chapters, Hu looks at different physical principles and modes of locomotion. Using a rather formulaic approach, each chapter discusses two or three case studies. A third-person story introduces the researcher, often catching them in the process of conducting an experiment, outlines the problem or question at hand, gives an overview of what has been done in the past, and explains the latest findings of the protagonist.

    What follows is a miscellany of some truly remarkable organisms and wacky experiments. Undulatory motion is used by snakes, burrowing worms, but also the sand fish, with high-speed X-ray imagery revealing that this lizard effectively swims through sand. Flying snakes are dropped off rickety towers to study how they deform their body into an airfoil during their gliding fall. Dead fish are shown to be capable of passive swimming. Insects employ crumple zones in their wings to survive frequent impacts with raindrops and vegetation. And cockroaches can flatten themselves to an extreme degree and still run at full tilt (!), inspiring robots that can continue to function while being compressed. And do not get me started on ant colonies. Do they behave as a fluid or as a solid?

    Some projects are so well known that multiple authors will write about them, such as the Kilobot robot swarm described by Lisa Margonelli (see my review of Underbug). Others are very obscure, so I was not terribly surprised to see no mention of John Long’s evolving robots (see Darwin's Devices). But, given that Hu has worked at MIT, I was surprised to read nothing about the walking robots from well-known engineering schools such as the MIT Biomimetic Robotics Lab, Boston Dynamics, or Caltech. Their designs for mobile all-terrain robots are (literally) advancing by leaps and bounds, and the footage coming out of these labs of walking, running, jumping, backflipping, door-opening robots is as fascinating as it is terrifying. They regularly make the news, prompting both clickbaity headlines playing at people’s fears, but also serious concerns about how the military will be using these (a lot of this research is sponsored by DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency of the US Department of Defense). Instead, Hu features Steve Collins’s passive-dynamic walking robot that only uses gravity as a driving force. And where are the titular wall-climbers in this book? Finally, the book lacks much in the way of a discussion of evolutionary and physical constraints that impose limits on locomotion (see e.g. Evolutionary Biomechanics, Feats of Strength, and The Equations of Life).

    Those omissions notwithstanding, the topics that are featured are given a nice treatment. I was especially impressed with the explanatory diagrams, many of them redrawn for this book, the useful black-and-white stills and photos, and the colour plate section. Finally, an author who actually refers to his plates in the text! Without using any formulas, Hu gives concise explanations of biological and physical principles such as allometry, pendulums, propulsion by crack propagation, or conservation of angular momentum. How to Walk on Water and Climb up Walls is not intended to be a complete overview of the field of biomechanics and biorobotics and Hu does not go into great detail, just enough to cover the basics. Interested readers may want to look up Life's Devices, The Biomechanics of Insect Flight, Nature's Flyers, Collective Animal Behavior, or the forthcoming The Rules of the Flock to name but a few. A clever conclusion shows the value of this kind of research, which is often lampooned for being a waste of taxpayer’s money.

    Where a competing pop-science title such as Furry Logic runs the whole gamut of physics (covering some of Hu’s examples), Hu has carved himself a nice little niche by focusing on the intersection of animal locomotion and robotics. Not intended to be comprehensive, How to Walk on Water and Climb up Walls is an amusing and easy read, and Hu’s choice of fascinating examples is likely to suck readers deeper into the topic of biomechanics.
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David L. Hu is associate professor of mechanical engineering and biology and adjunct professor of physics at Georgia Institute of Technology. He lives in Atlanta.

Popular Science Nature Writing New
By: David L Hu(Author)
236 pages, 8 plates with 12 colour photos; 33 b/w photos and illustrations
How to Walk on Water and Climb up Walls is a light and amusing romp at the intersection of animal locomotion and robotics, featuring some remarkable case studies.
Media reviews

"Answers questions you probably won't realize you even had [...] Hu demonstrates the extraordinary value day-to-day curiosity brings to science."
– Christopher Intagliata, Science Friday

"In How to Walk on Water and Climb up Walls [...] [Dr. Hu] describes both the silliness and profundity of his brand of research [...] He refers to the urethra as a pee-pee pipe. And he corrects his son when he brags that only he, not his sister, has a pee-pee pipe [...] Once older, his children may never forgive him for this book. But middle school science teachers and nerds everywhere will thank him."
– James Gorman, New York Times

"[How to Walk on Water and Climb up Walls] answers questions you probably won't realize you even had, but they're questions with serious answers that span the worlds of physics, fluid mechanics, and biology. Throughout the book, Hu demonstrates the extraordinary value day-to-day curiosity brings to science."
– Christopher Intagliata, Science Friday

"[An] engrossing tour of faunal motion."
– Barbara Kiser, Nature

"Hu distills the complex science that demystifies how flying snakes glide and sharks make for remarkably efficient swimmers. Breaking down these concepts is not easy and Hu is up to the task."
– Ronak Gupta, The Wire

"This highly accessible and exciting book is a quick, enjoyable adventure."
– Grrl Scientist, Forbes

"Roboticists tasked with designing the machines of tomorrow are inspired by the spectacular blueprints created by nature. In How to Walk on Water and Climb up Walls, David Hu dives into these all-natural plans and explains why they're so useful to robot design. The way a snake slithers or a dog shakes off water, it seems, are far too valuable to take for granted."
– Sarah Sloat, Inverse

"A fascinating book."
– Dominic Lenton, Engineering and Technology

"With infectious enthusiasm and curiosity, David Hu asks why natural selection may have favored one design over another. From flying snakes to the eyelashes of giraffes, he sees mechanical challenges everywhere, and his crazy experiments help us understand how animals dry their bodies, move, pee, and eat."
– Frans de Waal, author of Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?

"I recommend this book to all interested in biology and nature-inspired engineering. They will learn much and be marvelously entertained."
– Bert Hölldobler, coauthor of The Ants

“Read this fascinating book to learn how sharks move, why an elephant doesn’t take longer to empty its bladder than a human does, how mosquitoes fly in the rain, and how cockroaches avoid bumping into walls in the dark. Read it too to learn why the study of these seemingly obscure corners of the living world has the potential to offer enormous benefits to humanity.”
– Rob Dunn, author of Never Out of Season

"This clear and engaging book introduces readers to the study of animal motion and mechanics. Demonstrating the effectiveness of an interdisciplinary approach to the analysis of animal structure and function, the book balances attention to pure science and discoveries about fundamental aspects of the natural world with a consideration of how research in this area could contribute to new technologies."
– Sharon Swartz, Brown University

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