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Want to make a robot more versatile? Scale it down. That’s the concept that engineers at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) have been throwing around. So far, they’ve developed an early prototype of a tiny robot with massive ninja-like skills.

Like a Pringles lid, the bot can launch itself into the air at a moment’s notice, reaching heights up to seven times its size. These robots do not need to reset after each jump, which means they can be utilized in all sorts of data gathering missions in volatile environments.

“We gave the robot numerous actuators, each of which is insulated from the others,” said co-author Zhenishbek Zhakypov. “By activating the actuators successively, the robot begins to crawl. The jumping mode depends on springs that are also made out of SMA.”

Applying Origami Principles in Robotics

It’s common for researchers to draw inspiration from biological life forms, such as dinosaurs, insects and birds. But when the team at EPFL got stumped on the design for their latest project, they wanted to tap into a specialization that is not usually associated with large, bulky machines. In their quest for enlightenment, the group turned to origami.

The core principles behind the Japanese paper folding art were applied to the Tribot, making it flat, ultra-light and foldable. For the wormy model, the characteristics are noticeable in the frame, measuring two centimeters tall and weighing roughly four grams.

When it comes to production, the parts are manufactured using the latest 3D-printing techniques. This makes the models inexpensive to create. Replacing a broken part can also be done instantly at low costs.


What Can I Use These Robots for?

Microbots have many different applications, ranging from surveillance to filming. Deploying a fleet of small droids is incredibly easy due to their manageable size. In the field of cinematography, individuals can send out these units to record animals living in underground tunnels. Unlike camera rovers, researchers have the option to program bots to behave like the species they’re covering. This brings an extra level of complex cloaking that trumps traditional filming bots. As a result, the unit can walk around freely and the subject is less likely to put up its defenses, possibly destroying or eating the tiny machine.

For security specialists, the flexible devices are useful for non-intrusive monitoring. To minimize risks, professionals could watch a target from a safe distance, like a drone, but on land. On the front lines, robots do all the grunt work. They navigate through moldy vent systems and hide under stacks of papers. By the time someone notices something isn’t right, the team would’ve already gotten the information they needed from the target.

As mentioned earlier, the technology supporting these machines is under rapid development. Scientists are reaching new milestones every day in the robotics sector, and it’s only a matter of time before their capabilities surpass human skill and comprehension. But for now, seeing a tiny robot skip around carelessly will have to do.

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