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Friday, December 2, 2022

Pancake-like in appearance, and maggot-like in movement, this robot

It is possible that a pancake wishes for legs in order to leap from your breakfast plate in search of a better, unchewed existence.

However, it has been discovered that legs are not required for something as flat as a flapjack to hop about. An international team of scientists has created a tortilla-shaped robot that can leap multiple times per second and more than seven times the height of its own body, which is half a centimetre. In their research, they claim that the robot, which is approximately the size of a squashed tennis ball and weighs about the same as a paper clip, nimbly executes these feats while having no visible feet or other means of support. This week, the journal Nature Communications published the results of their investigation.

Professor Shuguang Li of Harvard University’s robotics department, who was not engaged in the study, praised the new robot as “a creative notion” and “an significant addition to the soft robotics area.”

Many terrestrial robots, which are robots that prefer to be on the ground rather than in the air or water, move by rolling or walking instead of flying. A terrestrial robot’s ability to jump, on the other hand, can aid it in traversing unfamiliar territory and navigating rough terrain; in some cases.

Although the capacity to leap may provide a competitive advantage for certain robots, experts in the field of robotics have found it difficult to create such a capability. Some soft robots that store energy are capable of making a single, spectacular leap just once or twice a year. The ability to hop about extremely regularly in certain lightweight soft robots that do not store energy is limited, however, since they cannot leap high or far enough to properly clear a barrier such as a curb.

The ultimate leaping robot would be able to jump repeatedly and from great heights and distances. Dr. Chen, on the other hand, believes that “these two endeavours are diametrically opposed.” Leaping higher or further demands more energy, and jumping more often necessitates the accumulation and release of that energy over a shorter period of time, which is a difficult challenge for a small robot to do.

As a result, the robot was able to leap quickly and constantly. But would it be able to overcome the obstacles? In order to find out, the researchers subjected the small robot to a battery of tests that were possibly as inspiring as Sylvester Stallone’s training sequence in the film “Rocky.”

The robot has to navigate through a variety of obstacles such as gravel mounds, slopes, and wires. It had to leap over a circular step that was five millimetres tall and traverse an empty ring that was eight millimetres height — all of which were huge obstacles for a robot that stood four millimetres tall and had a body the size of a pancake. All of these exams were passed with ease, if not elegantly, by the amateur acrobat.

Dr. Chen claims that the robot can also change directions on its own at a rate of around 138 degrees per second, making it the quickest turning speed of any soft jumping robot.

The robot is reliant on external power, which is delivered to it through electrical lines. Dr. Chen said that the researchers would want to make the robot wireless in future iterations, but that it would be difficult to maintain the robot small and lightweight at the same time.

The researchers recommend that sensors be integrated onto the small robot in order for it to be able to detect environmental variables such as pollution inside buildings. In the future, Dr. Li believes that the robot could be used for a variety of tasks, such as inspecting difficult-to-reach areas of large industrial machines or, if equipped with a small camera, conducting search-and-rescue missions for trapped people or animals in disaster zones because it can travel through small spaces. And, he said, the robot is small and inexpensive. “It would probably just cost a few bucks to put one together,” Dr. Li said.

A Boyle
I cover Science related topics for The National Era
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