Insect-inspired robot gets skinny to go through gaps
One of the most commonly suggested uses for tiny robots is the search for trapped survivors in disaster site rubble. The insect-inspired CLARI robot could be particularly good at doing so, as it can make itself skinnier to squeeze through tight horizontal gaps.
Its name an acronym for "Compliant Legged Articulated Robotic Insect," CLARI was created at the University of Colorado-Boulder by a team led by engineering doctoral student Heiko Kabutz. He collaborated with the university's Asst. Prof. Kaushik Jayaram, who previously created a cockroach-inspired robot that flattens itself to squeeze through vertical gaps.
About the size of a piece of sushi roll, CLARI's four-legged body is roughly square when viewed from above, and is made up of four sections that are joined to one another by the robot's flexible outer skin.
Each section incorporates one leg, along with its own circuitboard and dual actuators which move the leg forward and backward, and from side to side. This means that each leg can operate independent of the others.
When moving across open ground, CLARI stays in its default square shape for optimum speed and stability. If it encounters a gap that's too narrow to pass through in that form, however, it can reconfigure itself into a longer, narrower shape. As far as hard numbers go, the robot is about 34 mm (1.3 in) wide when square, and just 21 mm (0.8 in) wide when narrow.
While the current version of CLARI is hardwired to a power and control source, it is hoped that its descendants will be battery-powered and equipped with sensors that will allow them to autonomously make their way through complex environments. The scientists also want to make those robots smaller, yet equip them with more legs for increased maneuverability.
"When we try to catch an insect, they can disappear into a gap," said Kabutz. "But if we have robots with the capabilities of a spider or a fly, we can add cameras or sensors, and now we’re able to start exploring spaces we couldn’t get into before."
A paper on CLARI was recently published in the journal Advanced Intelligent Systems. The robot can be seen in action, in the following video.
Source: University of Colorado-Boulder