Click beetle-inspired robots jump with elastic energy – ScienceDaily

Researchers have taken a huge leap forward in developing insect-sized jumping robots capable of performing tasks in the small spaces often found in mechanical, agricultural, and search-and-rescue settings.

A new study led by Professor of Mechanical Sciences and Engineering Sameh Tawfik shows a series of robots the size of a beetle small enough to fit into tight spaces, powerful enough to maneuver over obstacles and fast enough to match the insect’s swift escape time.

The results are published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers at USC and Princeton University have studied the anatomy, mechanics, and evolution of the click beetle over the past decade. A 2020 study found that the sudden torsion—the rapid release of elastic energy—of the coiled muscle within the clicker beetle’s thorax is triggered to allow them to propel themselves into the air several times the length of their body, as a way to straighten themselves if they were to flipped onto their backs.

“One of the biggest challenges with microbots is finding a design that is small, yet robust enough to move around obstacles or quickly escape from dangerous situations,” Tawfik said.

In the new study, Tawfiq and his team used tiny coiled actuators — similar to animal muscles — that pull on a bundle-shaped mechanism, causing it to slowly buckle and store elastic energy until it is automatically released and inflated, propelling the robots. rising.

“This process, called the dynamic buckling cascade, is simple compared to the anatomy of a click beetle,” Tawfik said. “However, simplicity is good in this case because it allows us to work and manufacture parts on such a small scale.”

Guided by biological evolution and mathematical models, the team built and tested four different device configurations, landing on two configurations that could successfully jump without manual intervention.

“Going forward, we don’t have a set approach for the exact design of the next generation of these robots, but this study plants a seed in the evolution of this technology – a process similar to biological evolution,” said Tawfik.

The team envisions these robots reaching into tight spaces to help perform maintenance on large machines such as turbines and jet engines, for example, by taking pictures to identify problems.

“We also imagine that robots on the scale of insects are useful in modern agriculture,” Tawfik said. “Currently, scientists and farmers are using drones and rovers to monitor crops, but sometimes researchers need a sensor to touch a plant or to take a picture of a tiny feature. Insect-scale robots can do that.”

Researchers from the University of Birmingham, UK. Oxford university ; The University of Texas at Dallas also participated in this research.

This study was supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Toyota Research Institute of North America, the National Science Foundation, and the Royal Society.

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