Tiny robots copy the click beetle to jump over obstacles
If a robot is going to be tiny, then it better have a way of getting around the many obstacles that will block its way. A new type of robot takes a unique approach to doing so, by jumping like a click beetle.
Should you be unfamiliar with the click beetle, it's an insect that falls on its back and plays dead when touched. Once the perceived danger has passed, the beetle rights itself via a coiled-muscle spring mechanism which "clicks" its thorax and flings the insect up into the air.
Scientists at the University of Illinois and Princeton University have now copied (and simplified) that mechanism, in a series of small robots.
The devices incorporate a miniature coiled actuator that pulls on a beam-shaped mechanism, causing it to gradually buckle and store elastic energy. Once the mechanism reaches a certain threshold, all of that energy is suddenly released and amplified, shooting the robot upwards.
Four types of the bots were built, with two showing particular promise due to the fact that they could activate their jumping mechanism without any external help. In one case, a robot weighing 1.6 grams and measuring 2 cm (0.8 inches) in length was able to jump to a height of 0.9 m (3 ft).
That said, the team states that the design will continue to evolve, much in the same fashion that natural systems evolve via the course of evolution.
Ultimately, the click-beetle-inspired robots might find use in applications such as the inspection of large machines like jet engines, which they could move around inside of while relaying photos of the different components. And the possibilities don't stop there …
"We also imagine insect-scale robots being useful in modern agriculture," said the lead scientist, U Illinois' Prof. Sameh Tawfick. "Scientists and farmers currently use drones and rovers to monitor crops, but sometimes researchers need a sensor to touch a plant or to capture a photograph of a very small-scale feature. Insect-scale robots can do that."
A paper on the robots – which can be seen in action in the video below – was recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
And as an interesting side note, a team at Columbia University recently developed a somewhat similar system, which allowed a quadruped robot to move its legs by copying the manner in which a hair clip stores and releases energy as it's bent.
Source: University of Illinois