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Today, we're recapping some of the International Institute for Species Exploration's Top 10 New Species of 2016, and talking about some tiny flying robots that can stick to things using electricity!

Hosted by: Michael Aranda
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New Species

Perching Robot


[SciShow Intro plays]

Michael: If you received 18,000 new presents over the course of a year and had to pick out your top ten, you might find that a pretty tough call! But 18,000 is also the average number of brand new species identified each year. And each May, the International Institute for Species Exploration picks out 10 of the coolest new species to celebrate the birthday of taxonomist Carl Linnaeus on May 23rd.

Some of the newbies were found in remote locations, while others were hiding in plain sight. And one owes its place on the list to Facebook! Sundews are better known for catching flies with sticky spines than for their social media savviness, but this one might count as an exception. It’s the first plant species to be formally recognized as a new species thanks to social media, and it’s a biggie.

At over a meter tall, the sundew can catch bugs as big as dragonflies! An amateur researcher came across the massive sundews while exploring a mountain summit in Brazil. And he did what anyone else would do if they stumbled across some huge meat-eating plants: he snapped some pictures and stuck them on Facebook. The pictures got shared around and led to some excited conversations among botanists, and eventually, it was identified as a new species.

It was a lucky find, too. This one peak is the only known place where this sundew grows, so it’s already critically endangered! Who knows, maybe you have a brand new species hidden in your vacation photos! Brazil also hosts a whole new kind of isopod, the group of crustaceans that also includes woodlice and horrible things that take over fish tongues. This new one lives a more peaceful lifestyle in caves — or rather, cave, as it’s only been found in one so far.

They’re quite the little construction workers too, all because they don’t like getting changed in public! Like other crustaceans, isopods periodically shed their skin as they grow. It’s a vulnerable time for them, because their squidgy new exoskeleton makes it easier for predators to eat them. So this new species builds itself private changing rooms from mud: little cubby holes where they can molt, safe from predatory eyes.

Not all the species on this list keep themselves so well hidden. Some areas, even well-populated ones, are home to some stunning gems never before recorded. This colorful critter from Gabon was one of sixty new African dragonflies and damselflies, described in just one research paper! The human-like Homo naledi, which we’ve talked about before, also made the list, as did a very non-photogenic deep-sea terror we’ll talk more about in a future episode, so stay tuned for that.

While biologists are finding all kinds of new life, roboticists are creating machines that mimic life. Like this new coin-sized robot, called a Micro Aerial Vehicle, which uses static electricity to perch on walls and ceilings like a fly. Last week, a research team based out of Harvard announced the new robot in the journal Science. Eventually, it could be used for search-and-rescue, communication or surveillance missions in hard-to-reach places or just as a cool little drone to get sweet pics of you snowboarding!

But flying and hovering is really hard work. Even if you’ve got a little body, it takes up a lot of energy. Animals like bees and hummingbirds get around this problem by sipping sugary nectar all day just to keep their wings beating. But nectar’s not on the menu for little robots, so their battery life is limited. So it pays to take a break if they can! A resting robot’s battery could last longer, and the robot could keep itself safe if it needed emergency retrieval.

Different bot-sticking techniques have been tried before, like little hooks and glues. But this new method has no moving parts, and is easily reversible when it’s time to take off again. It’s electro-adhesive, meaning that the robot uses static electricity to hold itself in place -- like how a balloon you’ve rubbed on your hair sticks to the wall. The contact surface is a wide rim that contains copper electrodes and a polymer coating.

When a current is passed through the electrodes, they generate patches of electrostatic charge. If the bot then comes in to land, it induces the opposite charge in the adjacent surface, and the two stick together. A piece of foam underneath keeps things flexible and acts as a shock-absorber.

Now, the robot will only stay attached as long as there’s current flowing, so perching will be some drain on the batteries. But the researchers estimate it uses a thousand times less power compared to staying airborne. The robot’s range is currently limited by the electrical cables that keep it tethered to a power supply, but the next step is to create a wireless, fully battery-powered version that could be buzzing around the skies in just a few years.

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