Robotic locust developed for search and rescue

Researchers from Israel’s Tel Aviv University and Ort Braude College have developed a robotic locust that they say could be used in search and rescue operations.

The miniature bot, named ‘TAUB’ after ‘Tel Aviv University and Ort Braude College’, is 13cm long and weighs less than 30g. It consists of a 3D-printed body created with ABS plastic, legs made of stiff carbon rods, and steel wire torsion springs to help propel it.

A single leap can take the robot forward about 1.4m, reaching a height of almost 3.4m. According to the researchers, this is twice as high as similar sized robots, and makes it suitable for search-and-rescue missions and reconnaissance operations in rough terrain.

“Our locust-inspired miniature jumping robot is a beautiful example of bio-inspired technological innovation,” said Prof Amir Ayali of the Department of Zoology at Tel Aviv University’s Faculty of Life Sciences.

“Miniature robots are of special interest in the robotics field, attracting a lot of attention and research. The manufacture of tiny robots is cheap and efficient; their small size allows them to traverse difficult and unknown terrain; and many can be used in any given situation.”

The robot, described in the journal Bioinspiration and Biomimetics, is powered by a small onboard battery and controlled remotely. Rather than trying to create a robotic replica of a locust, Ayali and his engineering colleagues simply sought to mimic the biomechanical jumping action of the insects. Locusts use stored mechanical energy to enhance the action of their leg muscles, and the robot’s jumping abilities are due to stored energy in its torsion springs.

“Our research is a true interdisciplinary biology-engineering collaborative effort,” said Ayali. “Biological knowledge, gained by observing and studying locusts, was combined with state-of-the-art engineering and cutting-edge technologies, allowing biological principles to be implemented in a miniature robotic jumping mechanism.”

The team is now working on a gliding mechanism that will enable the robot to extend its jumping range, lower its landing impact, execute multiple steered jumps and stabilise while airborne.