AI News, How robots are being inspired by insects

How robots are being inspired by insects

However, a key limitation of most robots is the fact that they are only able to perform one repetitive task, such as picking an item from a bin and placing it on a conveyor belt or drilling holes according to a preset pattern.

In recognition of this limitation, researchers in the emerging field of adaptive robotics are focusing their attention on how robots can be made more adaptable—and using mechanical engineering principles to create cutting-edge devices capable of reconfiguring themselves to carry out a number of different functions.

For example, a multi-purpose drone used to inspect energy infrastructure like offshore oil platforms or wind turbines could be equipped with gripping technology that enables it to perch on structures and conduct closer analysis in high winds—as well as waterproofing capabilities and propulsion technology that enables it to perform foundation inspections beneath the ocean surface.

To enable such adaptive robots, Zhao reveals that he has adopted a range of cutting-edge mechanical engineering technologies, including mechanism and machine design, computer-aided design, additive manufacturing (3-D printing), kinematics and dynamics modeling, finite element analysis and mechatronics.

As part of this work, the team has used synchrotron X-rays at the advanced proton source in Argonne National Laboratory to investigate the internal latch—or quick release—mechanism of the insect and demonstrated how a combination of hinge morphology and mechanics facilitates a unique clicking mechanism.

As Aimy Wissa, assistant professor in the mechanical science and engineering department and head of the Bio-inspired Adaptive Morphology Lab at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, explains, the research builds on work exploring the click beetles' legless self-righting jumping mechanism.

By investigating the physics of the creature's jump, the Illinois team were able to develop an autonomous self-righting robot—focusing in particular on the scaling laws between the beetle species and the influence of the insect's mass ratio on its jump.

'Quickly we realized that click beetles belong to a class of organisms who use 'power amplified' motion strategies—they use elastic storage elements to store energy and release it at a much faster rate than muscles can.

During the take-off phase, the creature was also modeled as a slider-crank mechanism that is actuated at the hinge point—and Lagrangian dynamics were used as part of a preliminary two-mass model to simulate the rotational and translational motion observed by the insect while airborne.

He also expects the small size to enable low cost and economical production, opening up the possibility of deploying them for specific niche applications and to 'automatically form mobile sensor networks and work collaboratively to accomplish given tasks.'

In an effort to address the first challenge, Zhao explains that researchers can leverage novel materials that require less energy to change the stiffness, such as low melting point alloys, which change from a rigid state to a soft state at lower temperatures.

To address the second challenge, he reveals that academics can develop theoretical frameworks to predict all the possible reconfigurations for a given design, and then 'leverage computational simulations to synthesize a design to achieve desired configurations.'