November 1, 2020

Get Outside and Get Inventing!

by guest-blogger Jennifer Swanson

Want to find some amazing ways to use your imagination and explore things right from your window or in your own backyard?  Awesome. Then this project is for you.

First, answer this question. What do you get when you combine animals and engineering? Biomimicry, of course. Biomimicry is engineering inspired by nature. Engineers who work with biomimicry study how animals and nature work and then mimic it or take inspiration to solve human problems. That is the topic of my new book, BEASTLY BIONICS: Rad Robots, Brilliant Biomimicry, and Incredible Inventions Inspired by Nature. (NGKids Book, 2020) 

Bionics-inspired engineering means watching how a bird flies help you figure out how to build an airplane, or maybe how to quiet a loud fan in your house. Sound intriguing? I think so!

This gecko ... 

 (Image from Beastly Bionics, 2020, NGKids Books) 

... could inspire an engineer to make a robot like this:

(Image from Beastly Bionics, 2020, NGKids Books)

Why a robot gecko? Well, geckos have sticky feet that can climb anything. If a human could have that ability, they might be able to climb walls, windows to clean them, or even the side of a cliff. 

When you’re designing a biomimetic robot, ask yourself a few questions:

  • What characteristics does the animal have that are useful?
  • How can these characteristics help humans?
  • Can the characteristics be imitated?

Let’s see how it works. Watching an elephant might inspire this: 

A robotic arm that allows people to reach for things more easily off a high shelf. Get it? The elephant uses its trunk to do that, so a robotic arm that looks and acts like the elephant’s trunk would do the same. That is biomimicry. 

Now it’s YOUR turn to design something: 

----------------- Get Outside and Get Inventing! -----------------

Materials needed: • journal or notebook • pencil • patience and imagination

Follow these directions:

Observe It!  

Ask yourself: 

  • What is the coolest thing this animal does? 
  • How can that be used to create something that will help humans?

Answer these questions in your journal.

Draw it!

Draw a picture of the animal in your journal.

Draw a picture of the helpful attribute that the animal has and how it can be turned into something that can help a human, a robot arm, an easy gripper, or even a special design. 

Design it!

Gather materials and see if you can make a model of your idea. It can be out of building blocks, paper, cardboard, or whatever supplies you have. If you have access to robotics materials, and can code something, that works, too. 

Test it out!  

See if it works. Then  present your idea to the class or to your parents. Ask them if they understand how it’s useful to the world and if they’d use it? 

Take feedback and then make adjustments (just like an engineer would).

HAVE FUN with this! And if your parent’s allow, tag me on Twitter or Instagram (@JenSwanBooks) with a picture of your design. I’d love to see your creativity. GO STEM!


Jennifer Swanson is the award-winning author of more than 40+ nonfiction books for children, mostly about science and technology. Jennifer’s love of STEM began when she started a science club in her garage at age 7. 

   Her books have received many accolades including starred reviews, Booklist Best Tech books list, Green Earth Book Honor Award, a Florida Book Award, and multiple California Reading Association awards, and National Science Teaching BEST STEM awards. Her Brain Games book was #13 on The 50 Best Science books Ever Written and her Save the Crash-test Dummies book is on the AAAS-Subaru Longlist for MG STEM books. 

   She is also the creator of the STEM Tuesday blog, STEAMTeamBooks promotion group and creator and cohost of Solve It! for Kids, a STEM podcast for kids and families where Jennifer encourages kids (of all ages) to engage their curiosity and DISCOVER the science all around them! Visit her website,, find her on Facebook, or on Twitter, or Instagram @JenSwanBooks.

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