Click!

Jumping robots could provide a bug’s eye view of dangerous environments

Michael Vincent

Shutterstock

Science fiction has trained us to picture robots as mechanical replicas of human beings, whether they’re trying to fit in with us or wipe us out.

picture alliance/picture alliance/Getty Images

But it turns out humans aren’t the ideal model for most tasks robots are made to do. Engineers instead look to very different species for inspiration.

FrankRamspott/E+/Getty Images

A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences describes a robot inspired by the click beetle. It could solve problems much bigger than its inspiration might imply.

Tiny robots can fit into dangerous spaces far too small for humans, but they must be powerful and fast enough to avoid being crushed like bugs.

Europa Press News/Europa Press/Getty Images

That’s where the click beetle comes in.

Click beetles can jump more than 20 body lengths into the air using a mechanism that’s only recently been decoded by researchers.

Y. Ruan et al. (2022) INSECTS

Y. Ruan et al. (2022) INSECTS

Click beetles have a hinge in their thorax that normally stays locked in place, storing elastic energy. They can release one end of the hinge, using that stored energy to propel themselves with 300 times the acceleration of gravity.

For their beetle bots, engineers replicated these internal mechanisms using tiny actuators in place of muscles. Because the components are so simple, they can be made to fit within the robot’s frame.

Michael Vincent

The beetle-based jumping mechanism isn’t the end of the line for the robots’ development but rather a step in their evolution.

Sameh Tawfick/Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Sameh Tawfick/Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Future engineers will be able to iterate on the jumping robot made for this study, adapting its findings to their robots’ needs.

Alex Walker/Moment/Getty Images

The study’s authors foresee the robots photographing the inner workings of large machines or scouting for survivors after disasters.