22 May 2008

Jumping Robot Designed With Rough Terrain In Mind

by Kate Melville

Designed to explore rough, inaccessible terrain or to aid in search and rescue operations, researchers from the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) have unveiled a novel, grasshopper-inspired jumping robot at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Pasadena, California. The robot weighs a miniscule 7 grams, and can jump 1.4 meters - more than 27 times its body size.

The researchers say the tiny machines could be fitted out with sensors to explore rough, inaccessible terrain or to aid in search and rescue operations. "This biomimetic form of jumping is unique because it allows micro-robots to travel over many types of rough terrain where no other walking or wheeled robot could go," explains EPFL's Dario Floreano. "These tiny jumping robots could be fitted with solar cells to recharge between jumps and deployed in swarms for extended exploration of remote areas on Earth or on other planets."

The researchers say they took their inspiration from nature, where small jumping animals such as fleas, locusts, grasshoppers and frogs use elastic storage mechanisms to slowly charge and quickly release their jumping energy. In this way, they can achieve very powerful jumps and very high accelerations. The jumping robot uses the same principle, charging two torsion springs via a small 0.6 gram motor and a cam. In order to be able to optimize the jumping performance, the legs can be adjusted for jumping force, takeoff angle and force profile during the acceleration phase. The battery on board allows it to make up to 320 jumps at intervals of 3 seconds.

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Source: Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne