Researchers at Tel Aviv University have constructed a locust-inspired robot that can jump double the height of existing robots of its type.
The TAUB is just 13 cm long and weighs less than 28 grams, but can jump 3.35 metres high and cover a horizontal distance of 1.37 metres.
Crucial to its development was the close study of locusts – these seemingly simple creatures have an incredibly powerful jumping mechanism. Just prior to a locust jumping, its legs are first bent, then locked in place at the joint. A sudden release of the flexor muscle on the upper leg unlocks the joint and initiates the jump.
According to W. J. Heitler, from the School of Biology at University of St Andrews (who wasn’t involved with this invention), the peak acceleration of locusts during take-off approaches 20G – a force enough to crush a human. If jumping ability was scaled up in proportion to size, a human would be able to do a standing long jump of around 40 metres (the current world record is 3.73metres).
The body of the TAUB is made from ABS plastic; printed on a 3D printer. The robot’s legs are stiff carbon rods and its torsion springs made of steel wire. It’s these torsion springs that give TAUB the ability to store energy needed for the jump. The TAUB is powered by a small on-board lithium-ion battery and remotely controlled through an on-board microcontroller.
So that’s the basics of the how – but what about the why? It’s certainly an interesting gadget, but what are its uses?
“Our locust-inspired miniature jumping robot is a beautiful example of bio-inspired technological innovation,” said Prof. Amir Ayali; TAUB’s creator. “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.”
With further development the TAUB could perhaps be fitted with GPS and a camera, plus a tiny solar panel to keep it powered. A swarm of the devices could carry out reconnaissance in military and disaster scenarios.
Even with its current energy storage abilities, the TAUB can perform 1,000 jumps – so the equivalent of a distance of over a kilometre.