Robot bugs team up and soar to new heights

6 May 2016

Insect teamwork is a key inspiration to modern robotics, via Shutterstock

Engineers in the US have built a new type of robot that teams up with other bots to climb previously insurmountable stairs. The inspiration? Jumping ants.

A significant section of the robotics industry has pivoted towards nature, looking at animals of all shapes and sizes for inspiration.

Some colour shift like chameleons, others withstand force in the same way cockroaches do. There are even robots that travel in butterfly swarms, or walk on water like striders.

The latest example of this is type of inspiration is the way ants work together to climb obstacles and bridge seemingly insurmountable gaps.

Last winter, research into ant activities, with a view to robotics, reached an interesting note. Ants in South America have long been known to build bridges, which is amazing in itself, but the discovery that these constructions can shimmy along walls to help span wider gaps was thought to be significant in the evolution of robotic disaster relief and deep-sea exploration advancements.

Nature and robots combine

Now researchers at UC Berkeley have developed VelociRoACHes (Velocity Robotic Autonomous Crawling Hexapod), mini robot bugs that team up to do something similar.

“This is a novel design because depending on how a pair of VelociRoACH robots coordinate their actions, they can form a sort of modular robot,” said lead author of the new report, Carlos Casarez, talking to IEEE.

This means teaming up gives them double the legs, an anchor body, a hinge to work with and – with an included tether – a way to wince colleagues up steep climbs.

The set-up is remarkably simple. One bot charges at a step, blocked to a relative standstill, before another bot charges from behind and gives it a shove, tying a tether to the leader’s back.

Then, once one is up it grips the ground for a strong centre of gravity, wincing up its helper.

Previous examples of engineers looking towards nature for inspiration are numerous, but 10 of the best examples are here. But, just for you, below are some other examples:

Main ant image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic