Engineers at the University of California, Berkeley have created an insect-like robot that can glide quickly and turn a coin — literally. The bot has its fancy legs which are… well, its fancy legs, which use different voltages to replace stickiness and make turns.
The new robot builds on the design the team described in 2019, made from a rectangular sheet of polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) coated in an elastomeric polymer. The idea is that when an alternating current is applied, the material bends and straightens rapidly in rapid succession, transforming into reciprocating motion.
In fact, the team reported that it’s surprisingly powerful – the robot can travel 20 body lengths per second on a flat surface and can even carry heavy loads. small. The only problem is, it’s not particularly maneuverable, so for the new version, engineers fitted it with more advanced feet.
“Our original robot can move very, very fast, but we can’t really control whether the robot goes left or right and a lot of the time it will move randomly, because if there is a little difference in the manufacturing process – if Liwei Lin, senior author of the study said. “In this work, the big innovation was the addition of these feet which allowed it to spin very quickly.”
Insect-sized robot solves a Lego maze in seconds
The robot’s fancy new feet work on the principle of electrostatic adhesion – essentially the same force that causes a balloon to stick to your hair or clothes after you rub it in. In this case, when a voltage is applied to one leg, it sticks to the floor, causing the robot to spin sharply in that direction.
The researchers demonstrated the bot’s agility by running it through a maze, which it could complete in 5.6 seconds. In other tests, it was equipped with gas sensors and was tasked with creating a map of gas concentrations in an area, which could hint at future applications in identifying sources of leaks.
The team built two different versions, one connected to the mains and another powered by batteries. The tethered model is the faster model, reaching an improved top speed of 28 body lengths per second, almost as fast as a live cockroach. Meanwhile, the battery model is slower but has the ability to travel longer – up to 19 minutes and 102 ft (31 m) when carrying the gas sensor.
“One of the biggest challenges right now is building smaller-scale robots to maintain the power and controllability of larger robots,” says Lin. “With larger-scale robots, you can include a large battery and a control system, no problem. But as you try to shrink things down to an increasingly small scale, the weight of those elements becomes difficult to carry for the robot, and the robot usually moves very slowly. Our robot is very fast, quite powerful and requires very little power, allowing it to carry sensors and electronics while also carrying a battery.”
The study was published in the journal Robotics Science. The group demonstrates the robot in the video below.
Insect-sized robot has the agility of cheetahs
Source: UC Berkeley