The University of California Berkeley engineers have recently used a principle behind some of the specialized sticky footpads observed on insects, enabling them to stick to surfaces to develop an insect-sized robot through the use of electrostatic adhesion.

According to a SlaghGear report, robotics researchers are continuously working to improve robots for all ways of tasks.

One of the most concentrated areas of research is the creation of tiny robots which have high agility levels, allowing them to easily navigate complex environments.

Essentially, the said report specified, the electrostatic adhesion enables the robot to swerve and swivel with agility "on par with a cheetah."

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Science Times - Insect-Sized Robot Invented with Unique Agility, Allowing Them to Easily Navigate Complex Environments
(Photo: Cyron Ray Macey from Brisbane on Wikimedia Commons)
The invention was initially a cockroach-sized robot that could scurry through a flat surface at a 20-body-lengths-per-second rate, or approximately 1.5 miles per hour.

Unique Agility

The insect-sized robot's high agility enables it to move through complex terrain and rapidly avoid unanticipated obstacles.

Described in a similar EurekAlert! report, the tiny robot that the research team developed is built from a thin layer of material, bending and contracting when an electric voltage is applied.

The design for this robotic invention was originally developed in 2019. More so, it was also initially a cockroach-sized robot that could scurry through a flat surface at a 20-body-lengths-per-second rate, or approximately 1.5 miles per hour.

The new study, reported in Berkeley News, saw the researchers add two electrostatic footpads to the robot. Applying voltage to any of the pair of footpads raises the electrostatic force between the footpad and the surface being walked on by the robot, making the former stick more firmly to the surface.

With one of the two stuck more firmly to the surface, the robot's remainder is rotating around the foot, increasing its agility.


Essentially, the pair of footpads provide the robot's operator with control over its trail and enable the robot to make turns with centripetal acceleration going beyond that produced by most insects.

The researchers said that while the original 2019 robot can move quite fast, they could not control whether it moved left or right.

When the new one was videoed during the study, "Insect-scale fast-moving and ultra-robust soft robot," published in Science Robotics, navigating Lego mazes while carrying a tiny gas sensor and serving to avoid falling debris.

The robot's tiny size enables it to survive being stepped on by a human who's weighing 120 pounds. Tiny and strong robots that have high agility like the one created by the Berkeley team have the potential to be used in search and rescue operations and other undertakings that are hazardous for humans, including searching for potential gas leaks.

Reason for the Small Size

According to mechanical engineering professor Liwei Lin at UC Berkeley, most of the robots at this specifically small scale are quite fragile.

If one steps on them, Liwei, also the study's senior author added, he is pretty much destroying a robot. The professor also said they found that if they put weight on their robot, it still, more or less, works.

For instance, according to Yichuan Wu, the first author of the study who finished the work as a mechanical engineering graduate student at the UC Berkeley through a partnership with the Tsinghua-Berkeley Shenzhen Institute Partnership, if an earthquake occurs, it is very difficult for the big machines, or the big dogs, to search for life underneath the debris.

Therefore, added Yichuan, the reason there is a need for a small-sized robot that is agile and robust. This first author is currently an assistant professor at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China.

The insect-sized robot is shown on UC Berkeley's YouTube video below:


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