Researchers have made a significant leap forward in developing insect-sized hopping robots capable of performing tasks in small spaces. A new study shows a series of click bug-sized robots small enough to fit in tight spaces and powerful enough to navigate obstacles.
Researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Princeton University have been studying the anatomy, mechanics and evolution of the click beetle for the past decade. A 2020 study found that the click (super-rapid release of energy) of a coiled muscle in the thorax of a nutcracker results in it being able to travel through the air many times its body length, as well as being able to roll over. if he is on his back.
"One of the main challenges of small-scale robotics is to find a design that is small but powerful enough to move over obstacles or quickly leave dangerous places," said mechanical engineering professor Sameha Taufik.
In the new study, Taufik and his team used tiny coiled actuators that pulled on a rod-shaped mechanism, causing it to slowly bend and store elastic energy until it was released, propelling the robots upward.
"This process, called the dynamic folding cascade, is simple compared to the anatomy of the click beetle," Taufik said. "However, in this case, simplicity is a good thing because it allows us to work and make parts on such a small scale."
Guided by biological evolution and mathematical models, the team built and tested four variants of the device, settling on two configurations that can successfully jump without manual intervention.
"Going forward, we don't have a definite approach to the exact design of the next generation of these robots, but this research lays the seeds for the development of this technology, a process similar to biological evolution," Taufik said.
The team envisions that these robots will be able to get into tight spaces to help maintain large machines such as turbines and jet engines, such as taking pictures to identify problems.
“We also imagine that insect-scale robots could be useful in modern agriculture,” Taufik said. “Currently, scientists and farmers use drones and rovers to monitor crops, but sometimes researchers need a sensor to touch a plant or take a picture. very small detail. Insect scale robots can do it."
The study involved scientists from the University of Birmingham, the University of Oxford and the University of Texas at Dallas. This study was supported by DARPA, the Toyota North American Research Institute, the National Science Foundation, and the Royal Society.
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