Research Team Develop Self-Propelling Insect Robots

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by Jessica Tabinor on


INDUSTRY NEWS | 3 MIN READ 

 
  • Researchers from EPFL's School of Engineering have teamed up to develop robust soft robotic insects that are able to propel themselves with artificial muscles.

  • Find out more and watch the video of the robotic insects in action!

Researchers have teamed up to develop robust soft robotic insects that are able to propel themselves with artificial muscles.

The robotic insects, developed by a team from the EPFL’s School of Engineering, have been dubbed the DEAnsect. The new technology could see the robotic insects working together in swarms, tethered with ultra-thin wires.

The insects are believed to be very tough as they can be folded, hit with a fly swatter or trodden on without causing any damage or negative impact.

The second insect is untethered, wireless and autonomous. Weighing under 1g, it carries its battery and electronics on its back and is equipped with a microcontroller and photodiodes that allow it to recognise black and white patterns and follow any line drawn on the ground.

Along with the team from the EPFL’s Soft Transducers Laboratory (LMTS), the DEAnsect was developed in partnership with colleagues from the University of Cergy-Pontoise, France. Together the two teams published the research in Science Robotics.

Watch the insects in action in this video:

 


DEAnsect is equipped with dielectric elastomer actuators (DEAs), a type of hair-thin artificial muscle that propels it forward through vibrations. These DEAs also enable it to move over different types of terrain, including undulating surfaces.

According to EPFL, the artificial muscles consist of an elastomer membrane sandwiched between two soft electrodes. The electrodes are attracted to one another when a voltage is applied, compressing the membrane, which returns to its initial shape when the voltage is turned off. The insect has such muscles fitted to each of its three legs. Movement is generated by switching the voltage on and off over 400 times per second.

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EPFL’s LMTS Director, Herbert Shea said:

“DEAs generally operate at several kilovolts, which required a large power supply unit. Our design enabled the robot, which itself weighs just 0.2g, to carry everything it needs on its back.”

“This technique opens up new possibilities for the broad use of DEAs in robotics, for swarms of intelligent robotic insects, for inspection or remote repairs, or even for gaining a deeper understanding of insect colonies by sending a robot to live amongst them.”

“We’re currently working on an untethered and entirely soft version with Stanford University. In the longer term, we plan to fit new sensors and emitters to the insects so they can communicate directly with one another.”


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