A team of engineers and scientists from Tel Aviv University and Ort Braude College have developed a miniature robot inspired by locusts that can jump 11 feet in the air – twice the height of robots of similar size.
The robot, which the researchers call "TAUB" is five inches long and weighs less than one ounce. It can cover a horizontal distance of 4.5 feet in just one leap. The researchers believe the TAUB can be used in search-and-rescue missions, as well as in reconnaissance operations in rough terrain.
"Our locust-inspired miniature jumping robot is a beautiful example of bio-inspired technological innovation," says Prof. Amir Ayali of the Department of Zoology at Tel Aviv University. "Miniature robots are of special interest in the robotics field, attracting a lot of attention and research. The manufacture of tiny robots is cheap and efficient; their small size allows them to traverse difficult and unknown terrain; and many can be used in any given situation."
To create the robot, the team 3D printed its body with ABS plastic. Its legs were composed of stiff carbon rods, and its torsion springs of steel wire. TAUB is powered by a small on-board batter, which is remotely controlled via microcontroller.
"Our research is a true interdisciplinary biology-engineering collaborative effort," says 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."
Instead of creating an identical mechanical replica of a locust, the researchers focused more on the specific biomechanical features a locust possesses to create a successful jump mechanism.
According to the team, a locust catapults itself in three stages. First, it bends its legs. Then its legs are locked in place at the joint. Finally, a sudden release of the flexor muscle on the upper leg unlocks the joint and causes a rapid release of energy, which creates a fast-kicking movement of the legs that propels the locust into the air.
TAUB can "high-jump" like a locust due to its ability to store energy in its torsion springs.
The researchers are now working on a gliding mechanism that will enable the robot to extend its jumping range, lower its landing impact, execute multiple steered jumps and stabilize while airborne to offer even more assistance in potential field applications.