This robot looks like a pancake and jumps like a maggot

If a pancake could dream, it might crave legs so it can jump off your breakfast plate in search of a better life without chewing. But i...


If a pancake could dream, it might crave legs so it can jump off your breakfast plate in search of a better life without chewing.

But it turns out that legs aren’t necessary for something as flat as a flapjack to jump. A group of scientists have designed a tortilla-shaped robot that can jump several times per second and more than seven times its body height by half a centimeter. They report that the robot, which is the size of a crushed tennis ball and weighs about the same weight as a paperclip, performs these feats with agility without any semblance of feet. Their research was published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communication.

Shuguang Li, a roboticist at Harvard who was not involved in the research, called the new robot a “smart idea” and “a significant contribution to the field of soft robotics.”

Many terrestrial robots, that is, at home on the ground rather than in air or water, move by rolling or walking. But the ability to jump can help a ground robot cross new spaces and navigate rough terrain; Sometimes it is more efficient for a robot to jump over an obstacle than to go around it, wrote Rui Chen, a researcher at Chongqing University in China and author of the article.

While jumping may give some robots a competitive advantage, engineering this ability has been a challenge for robotics researchers. Some soft robots that store energy can perform an impressive single jump very rarely. Some lightweight soft robots that don’t store energy can jump very frequently but cannot jump high enough or far enough to successfully cross an obstacle like a curb.

The ideal jumping robot would be able to jump high and far frequently. But “these two activities are contradictory,” said Dr Chen. Jumping higher or further requires more energy, and jumping more frequently requires that energy to be accumulated and released over a shorter period of time – a daunting task for a small robot.

To be inspired by this, the researchers looked at the larvae of the gall midge, maggots that miraculously launch themselves over distances 30 times longer than their log-shaped bodies, which are a tenth of an inch long. “Most creatures need feet to jump,” Dr Chen said, adding that the larvae “can jump by bending their bodies”. The maggot takes the form of a ring – sticking its head to the back with special sticky hairs – and squeezes the liquid towards one end of its body, making it rigid. The buildup of fluid increases the pressure, and the release of the pressure causes the maggot to soar.

The robot’s disc-shaped body does not look like that of a midge larva, but it jumps as one. Its body is made up of two plastic pockets printed with electrodes; the front pocket is filled with liquid and the back is filled with the same volume of air. The robot uses static electricity to drive the flow of liquid to deform parts of its body, causing the body to bend and generate force with the ground, causing it to jump. And the air pocket mimics the function of an animal’s tail, helping the robot maintain a stable position while jumping and landing.

This design allows the robot to jump 7.68 times its body height and have a continuous jump speed of six body lengths per second – a speed Dr Li called “very impressive.”

Thus, the robot could jump quickly and continuously. But could he overcome obstacles? To find out, the researchers put the little robot through numerous tests, perhaps as worthy of an inspiring film montage as Sylvester Stallone’s training in “Rocky. “

The robot had to cross various gravel mounds, slopes and cables. He had to climb a round step five millimeters high and pass through an empty ring eight millimeters high – monumental barriers for a four millimeter tall robot with a body like a pancake. The amateur acrobat passed all of these tests easily, if not gracefully.

The robot can also change direction on its own, at around 138 degrees per second – the fastest spinning speed of any smooth-jumping robot, Dr Chen said. Much like a car, the robot can steer by continuously rotating, according to Wenqi Hu, a senior researcher at the Max Planck Institute in Germany who was not involved in the research.

The robot relies on an external power supply which is powered by electric wires. Researchers would like to make the robot wireless in future iterations, but keeping the robot small and light will be a challenge, Dr Chen said.

“I wonder if adding an on-board power source would be a challenge for this flexible little rider,” Dr Li said.

The researchers propose to integrate sensors into the tiny robot to allow it to detect environmental conditions, such as pollutants in buildings. Dr Li suggested that the robot could possibly inspect hard-to-reach areas of large industrial machinery or, if equipped with a small camera, be used for search and rescue missions for people or animals. trapped because it can travel through small spaces in disaster areas. And, he added, the robot is tiny and cheap. “It would probably only cost a few dollars to build one,” Dr Li said.

Although the robot is currently confined to Earth, Dr Hu has suggested that it may be at home to explore another planet. “This type of task requires a simple but robust miniature robot design” that is light enough to be transported to new worlds, Dr Hu said, adding that the materials needed to build this robot would have to survive and function in conditions. extraterrestrial environments.

If true, the researchers’ robot could jump over dusty rocks and craters on the Moon or Mars, going where no pancake has gone before.

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Newsrust - US Top News: This robot looks like a pancake and jumps like a maggot
This robot looks like a pancake and jumps like a maggot
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