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Check out this 4-gram robot that walks like an inchworm and jumps like a flea

4-gram "origami" robot that crawls and jumps
The École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) specializes in origami robots, and its latest creation is quite a gem. Inspired by nature, the Tribot has the ability to crawl like an inchworm, jump like a flea, and then crawl again all without risking a break. While not a typical robot — and not specifically designed for any one application — the Tribot’s design is no doubt impressive.

Measuring in at just two centimeters tall and weighing only four grams, the Tribot is noticeably small. Featuring a T-shaped body structure and flexing legs, it has the capability to crawl along nearly any surface, jump up to seven times its height, and subsequently resume crawling upon landing. This motion allows it to move easily over obstacles while continuing on its desired path. Though it wasn’t developed to solve any specific issues, the robot has the potential for surveillance application in areas with difficult terrain.

Under the guidance of robot-origamist (or robogamist) Jamie Paik, the team had to think creatively when designing this revolutionary origami robot. Without having the ability to use bulky motors in the light and extensible machine, they decided to use a titanium and nickel “shape memory alloy” (SMA). What makes this memory alloy so unique lies with its capability to remember its original conformation, even after changing shape. After deformation, the alloy then forces itself back into shape by heating the material to a specific temperature.

This SMA formed the basis for the intelligent springs and actuators which power the two-legged device. Its thermal activation allows researchers to control movement by applying heat to different parts of the ultra-light robot. Tribot crawls when an electric current or a wireless micro-heater is used to heat the actuators while jumping is controlled by the SMA springs. Because of this, the robogami machine has the ability to crawl, jump, and crawl again without requiring a reset.

Easily assembled, the robot can be folded flat and stored en masse. By utilizing 3D printing techniques, future models of the Tribot have the potential to be manufactured quickly and efficiently. In the future, Paik hopes to equip the micro-robots with sensors and cameras to allow them to communicate with each other and to sense their surrounding environment. The team also is working on the “Crawler,” a four-legged version of an origami robot.

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Kelly Hodgkins
Kelly's been writing online for ten years, working at Gizmodo, TUAW, and BGR among others. Living near the White Mountains of…
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