Despite the fact that locusts are held in fairly low regard by us humans, there's a chance that you may one day be rescued by one … or at least, by a robotic locust. Working with colleagues at Israel's Ort Braude College, researchers from Tel Aviv University have created a tiny locust-inspired robot that can reportedly jump over twice as high as other similarly-sized devices. They say that it could ultimately find use in search-and-rescue operations at disaster sites.

Known as TAUB (for "Tel Aviv University and Ort Braude College"), the robot is five inches long (127 mm) and weighs less than an ounce (28 g), yet it can jump to a height of 11 feet (3.4 m) while covering a horizontal distance of 4.5 feet (1.4 m). The scientists hope that by equipping it with some sort of gliding mechanism, the latter figure could be greatly increased.

TAUB has a 3D-printed ABS plastic body, with legs made from stiff carbon rods and steel-wire torsion springs. It's powered by a built-in battery, and remotely-controlled in real time via an onboard microcontroller.

As with a real locust, it starts each jump by bending its legs down and then locking them, storing energy in the process. Whereas the insect then releases a flexor muscle in its upper leg, the robot instead releases its springs. In both cases, the stored energy is released in a vigorous kicking motion, propelling the locust/robot into the air.

It is hoped that the planned gliding mechanism will also allow for better steering of TAUB's jumps, along with softer landings. Once perfected, the robot may find use gathering data at disaster sites, in areas that are too treacherous or confined for human rescue workers to explore.

"Our locust-inspired miniature jumping robot is a beautiful example of bio-inspired technological innovation," says Tel Aviv University's Prof. Amir Ayali. "Biological knowledge, gained by observing and studying locusts, was combined with state-of-the-art engineering and cutting-edge technologies, allowing biological principles to be implemented in a miniature robotic jumping mechanism."

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Bioinspiration & Biomimetics.

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