Robots are becoming increasingly common and advanced in today’s society. Some robotics engineers get their inspiration from insects. That trend is especially fascinating because it broadens the options of what robots could do and how insects help.
For example, the United Kingdom endures 1.5 million road excavations per year, but engineers developed insect-like robots that may substantially reduce the disruption such projects cause. The 1-centimeter machines go into underground pipes and tunnels to repair them.
Also, a branch of the U.S. military recently asked for proposals regarding how the study of insect brains might lead to enhanced artificial intelligence (AI) systems. The successful bidder received a $1 million offer.
The push towards getting inspiration from insects could make the public see insects more favorably. Insects frustrate people when they invade homes. In Florida, 90% of homeowners experienced such issues. But, if individuals start making the connection between better robots and insects, that’ll help them remember the creatures’ positive contributions, too. Here are some possibilities in progress:
Harvard Engineers Design a Tiny, Flight-Ready Bot
Flying insects sparked ideas for a robotics team at Harvard. They made a tiny flying robot that’s only about one-quarter of a paper clip’s weight. The project’s participants say the machine’s thrust efficiency matches that of insects that are approximately its size, such as bees. This latest version is also superior to earlier ones because it does not need a power source connection when operating.
The device has four wings that flap, plus solar cells for energy. For now, the flights achieved by this robot are only a few seconds long and must occur in well-lit areas to accommodate the solar cells. A downside of the bot is that it can’t store energy. But, the developers set a goal to make adjustments and reach a flight time of several minutes.
Researchers Make a Robot That’s Seemingly Indestructible Like Cockroaches
Something that both fascinates and annoys people about cockroaches is their resilience. Even when a person purposefully squashes one, the roaches often seem no worse for wear. Cockroaches aren’t usually welcome sights, but a team at the University of California, Berkeley called them to mind when designing an ultra-tough robot.
The researchers said the robot still functioned after people put their weight on the machine, such as when stepping on it. More specifically, the robot can tolerate pressure equaling approximately a million times what it weighs. Anyone who’s ever tried to catch a cockroach probably remembers how impressively speedy they are. This robot is as well, and travels 20 body lengths per second.
Also, like cockroaches, the bot is small — about the size of a postage stamp — and goes places people can’t reach. The developers think their creation could be ideal for implementing tiny robots into search and rescue missions.
Scientists Study the Click Beetle to Investigate Other Robot Movement Options
An ongoing aim in robotics is to determine new ways to facilitate better robot movement. Progress leads to machines that can move faster and more smoothly or show a greater diversity of motion.
At the University of Illinois, scientists are looking into robot movement possibilities by scrutinizing the click beetle. That insect can jump without using its legs, thanks to a hinge segment that allows it to invert, flex, launch and reposition itself.
This latest research expands upon work the group did a couple of years ago and focused on an “internal latch mechanism” that click beetles have. It lets them reach impressive heights despite their legless methods of launching.
The team members have already created prototypes for spring-loaded components that could become part of future robots. Their work with the click beetle is also helping engineer a self-righting mechanism for autonomous machines.
Ant Behavior Results in a Robot That Finds Its Way Home
If you’ve ever seen one of the floor-cleaning robots for consumers that returns to its dock after going through a cycle or when it has a low battery, it’s easy to recognize the convenience of a robot that knows its base. That advantage is particularly handy when using robots for long-distance work.
French researchers looked to desert ants when constructing a robot that navigates home without GPS technology. The machine, aptly named AntBot, measures 50 centimeters wide and has six legs.
Desert ants count their steps, watch the apparent movement of passing objects and use light from the sky for navigation help, and so does this robot. The scientists tasked it with getting home after stopping at several checkpoints. It typically did so with an accuracy rate of within a couple of centimeters.
However, the AntBot isn’t ready for extended trips. It overheated if used for journeys longer than 14 centimeters. Researchers are building an improved version of the robot and expect it to handle lengthier trips. They also think their technology could be a suitable backup navigation assistant when GPS signals temporarily cut out.
Look for More Impacts Made By Insect-Inspired Robots
Some of these inventions are in the early stages, and they may not make it to the point where you see them widely available or even existing outside of labs.
Even so, the experiments performed could lead to more capable, biology-based robots.