Robots inspired by click beetles leap by exploiting elastic energy
The creation of leaping robots the size of insects that can operate in tight places, such as those seen in mechanical, agricultural, and search-and-rescue environments, is a significant advance in research.
Recent research conducted by Sameh Tawfick, a professor of mechanical sciences and engineering, shows a succession of click beetle-sized robots that are quick enough to match an insect’s speedy escape time, strong enough to move over obstacles, and compact enough to slip into confined areas.
In the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the results are published.
Over the past ten years, researchers at Princeton University and the University of Iowa have researched the anatomy, mechanics, and evolution of click beetles.
A 2021 research discovered that a coiled muscle in a click beetle’s thorax triggers snap buckling, the quick release of elastic energy, enabling them to launch themselves in the air several times their body length as a method of righting themselves if they are turned onto their backs.
Finding a design that is tiny enough to navigate around barriers or swiftly flee harmful situations is one of the big hurdles in small-scale robotics, according to Tawfick.
Credit: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2023). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2210651120
In the latest research, Tawfick and his team employed small coiled actuators that pull on a beam-shaped mechanism, causing it to gradually buckle and store elastic energy until it is spontaneously released and amplified, propelling the robots forward. These actuators are akin to mammalian muscles.
According to Tawfick, “This mechanism, known as a dynamic buckling cascade, is straightforward when compared to the anatomy of a click beetle.” But in this instance, simplicity is advantageous since it enables us to produce pieces on such a tiny scale.
The scientists constructed and tested four gadget variants using mathematics and biological evolution as their guides, eventually settling on two configurations that can leap effectively without the need for human assistance.
As for the precise design of the following generation of these robots, Tawfick stated, “We do not have a defined methodology going ahead, but this study plants a seed in the evolution of this technology—a process comparable to biologic evolution.
The team believes that these robots will be able to enter small locations and assist with maintenance on massive devices like jet engines and turbines, for example, by collecting images of potential issues.
Insect-scale robots might be helpful in contemporary agriculture, according to Tawfick. “Drones and rovers are currently used by researchers and farmers to monitor crops, but occasionally scientists require a sensor to touch a plant or take a snapshot of a very minute characteristic. Robotic insects can accomplish that.”
Researchers from the University of Texas at Dallas, Oxford University, and the University of Birmingham in the UK all contributed to this study.
“Insect-scale leaping robots facilitated by a dynamic buckling cascade” is the title of the study.