Springy as a locust ...

Locust-inspired TAUB robot. Credit: Tel Aviv University

Researchers at Tel Aviv and Ort Braud College have created a mini robot that can jump like a locust and, indeed, they took inspiration from the legs of the locust to create the jumping gait.

The locust can make some impressive jumps: about one meter in length and 25cm in hight (that is some 20 times its length, by comparison we should make a jump over 30m). They do so with a mechanism that looks like a catapult. The joint in the legs locks and the upper part of the leg has a muscle that contracts, thus accumulating energy like a spring. Once that energy exceed the locking capability of the joint the energy gets released in a flash, like in a catapult, and the locust jumps.

The researchers took the same approach. They equipped their robot with a carbon flexed leg and controlled the movement by a torsion spring. The rotation inside a small cylinder accumulate energy that is released once it exceeds the resistance of the spring. This makes the micro-robot jump up to 3.35m in length and up to 1.37m i hight. Since the robot is about 12.7cm in length the jumping performance is slightly better than the one of a locust: 26 times its length  Notice that the micro robot weights 23g, vs the 2g of a locust. On the one hand researchers can be proud of having found a mechanisms that is much more performant than the one invented by Nature, on the other hand we should recognise that Nature can still create mechanisms that are nimbler than the ones we create!

The idea is to use this micro-robots in terrain exploration in difficult situations, like mine fields for reconnaissance missions. Before doing that the researchers need to work on smoothing the jump stabilising the robot "in flight".

Author - Roberto Saracco

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