Helping Robots Spring Into Action

An international research team has constructed insect-size millirobots that can fling themselves into the air like trap-jaw ants.

AsianScientist (Jun. 26, 2020) – Inspired by trap-jaw ants, researchers have designed robots that can crawl, leap and even somersault over obstacles. These findings, published in Nature, could be applied to create space-exploration or search-and-rescue robots.

Over millions of years of evolution, insects have developed a wide array of impressive adaptations, some of which that they can wield in new and surprising ways. For example, trap-jaw ants have powerful, spring-loaded mouthparts that can snap shut at over 200 km/h, making their mandibles among the fastest moving body parts in nature.

Besides their fearsome chomping ability, trap-jaw ants have discovered that by pushing with their hind legs while simultaneously ‘biting’ the ground, they can send themselves hurtling through the air to escape a predator or a deep pit. This innovative form of locomotion turns out to be very energy efficient, even when compared with sophisticated human-designed machines.

Now, Professor Koh Hosoda at the Adaptive Robotics Laboratory, Osaka University, together with colleagues at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne, took inspiration from the trap-jaw ants to construct cooperative origami millirobots. Called Tribots, these insect-sized, upside-down Y-shaped machines are powered by spring-like linear shape-memory alloy actuators. The hinge mechanism allows the robots to jump over previously impassible areas.

“The integrated design of the actuators and surface-mounted electronics enables us to miniaturize the robots,” the authors said.

The team measured the mechanical power and energy cost of transport, and found that Tribots surpassed the heavier jumping robots currently available.

Groups of Tribots can coordinate to accomplish tasks using division of labor. For example, one Tribot designated as the leader can command two others to move a box. This technology can be used to build scalable colonies of autonomous robots that might explore the surfaces of new planets.

“The ability to move over diverse terrain while accomplishing coordinated tasks sets these robots apart from currently available rovers,” the authors said. “Here on Earth, Tribots might be deployed for search-and-rescue missions in the wake of natural disasters like floods or earthquakes.”

The article can be found at: Zhakypov et al. (2019) Designing Minimal and Scalable Insect-inspired Multi-locomotion Millirobots.


Source: Osaka University.
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