locust robot locust robot The researchers are working on a gliding mechanism to make the robot even more efficient. (Photo: Courtesy of Tel Aviv University)

Why scientists invented a locust-inspired robot

Researchers took cues from the insect to create a versatile robot that could save lives.

For all the sci-fi geeks out there, good news: Scientists have created perhaps the coolest robot invention since some students built a robot bartender last year. Israeli researchers from Tel Aviv University have created a tiny, insect-like robot that is 5 inches long and weighs less than an ounce.

The researchers believe the robot will perform well in search-and-rescue missions in rough terrain.

"Our locust-inspired, miniature jumping robot is a beautiful example of bio-inspired technological innovation,” said Tel Aviv University professor Amir Ayali, who led the research.

“Miniature robots are of special interest in the robotics field, attracting a lot of attention and research," Ayali continued. "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."

Why a locust? Apparently, this insect is very efficient when it comes to movement. Locusts store mechanical energy to enhance the action of their leg muscles, and scientists replicated this in the robot, which stores energy in a spring.

Thanks to this design, the tiny robot can jump 11 feet high – more than twice the height of similar-sized robots, according to the researchers – and cover a horizontal distance of more than 4 feet in one leap.

“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,” said Ayali.

The way they made the robot was just as cool. Scientists used a 3D printer to print out the robot's body, which was made of plastic – the same kind of plastic in Lego blocks. Its legs are made of stiff carbon rods, and its spring is composed of steel wire springs. A small battery powers the remotely controlled robot.

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