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Spring-loaded robotic roach can leap over five feet high

Robotic roaches have recently conquered tasks like collaborative climbing and squeezing through tight cracks. Other insect-inspired machines have been designed to swim, fly, and perch on almost any surface. Now, a little robot called JumpRoach can scurry around, flip itself upright, and leap over five feet into the air with the help of eight latex bands, a DC motor, and a knee-like mechanism, reports IEEE Spectrum.

For the body for the JumpRoach, researchers at Seoul National University, South Korea used the cost-effective Dash Robotics, which has become something of a standard in the robotic insect world. From there they added the bands, motor, spring mechanism, and even a matte black shell that gives the JumpRoach an unusually realistic appearance. The shell is for more than mere aesthetics though — not only does it help protect the internal mechanisms, it also enables the robot to turn itself upright after one of its jumps leaves it flailing about upside down. With all these mechanisms, the JumpRoach still weighs in at just 2.1 ounces.

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Seoul National University scientists have helped develop leaping robotic bugs in the past, but the JumpRoach’s spring mechanism is unique. Where most other devices release all of their energy in a single bound, the JumpRoach can control its power and “recharge” for another leap, enabling it to make consecutive ascents to varying degrees. By designing the mechanism to modify its intensity, the JumpRoach’s engineers hope to scale the technology to larger and smaller machines.

In an approach known as biomimicry, roboticists continue to evolve robotic bugs by incrementally adding features that often imitate those found in nature. Harvard researchers designed the RoboBee with the ability to perch in order to conserve energy. UC Berkeley scientists designed the origami-like CRAM robot to squeeze through cracks like real cockroaches. Biomimicry doesn’t always generate the most innovative designs, but it helps engineers solve complex problems by using methods and models already proven to work in nature.