Tiny bug-like robots can jump and flap their wings to fly in the air. Researchers at the University of California (UC) Berkeley have recently designed insect-scale microbots that could have numerous important applications, like assisting humans in tasks such as remote sensing, searching for survivors after natural disasters and space exploration due to their small size, insect-like maneuverability and easier navigation in challenging terrains, the German news agency reported.
Researchers Palak Bhushan and Claire Tomlin told the TechXplore website: "Fliers and jumpers can overcome obstacles and reach their next destination, in contrast with those that have to walk like ants."
The researchers inspired the bug-like robot idea from the fruit fly, saying this development aims to "demonstrate flapping wing motion at this size scale using onboard motors and mechanisms."
Small flying insects typically generate lift by performing large wing strokes. One of the key challenges for the researchers while developing this robot was to create small actuators than are able to generate large enough rotations to drive the artificial wings.
The second microbot developed by the researchers is a jumping bot that measures 17mm x 6mm x 14mm in size and weighs 75 milligram. The tethered version of this robot can jump six times per minute, landing perfectly on its feet. To jump up by 8mm in height, the bot consumes approximately 6.4mW of power.
Small jumping insects generally push the ground rapidly with their legs while performing a jump. This instantaneous power demand is far too high to reproduce using an onboard motor. To overcome this challenge, the researchers have used motors to store energy in an onboard mechanism and then rapidly release this energy, which allows the robot to perform jumps.
Bhushan and Tomlin said: "Motors are heavy, tough to fabricate at small scales, and require special control signals to operate them. In order to simplify fabrication and control, we ensured that our design is able to operate using a single motor by making the other required functions occur passively."
In their future work, the researchers plan to focus on the development of more efficient motors, to perfect their design further and prepare for when batteries small enough to support their bot are finally released.