SERVO 12.2017 25
HIGH TAIL IT!
The nice thing about making bio-inspired robots is that while you can take inspiration from biology,
you don’t have to be constrained by it. Lots of
different animals have lots of different adaptations that
make them good at lots of different things.
Unfortunately, there isn’t really one “super animal”
that incorporates all of these adaptations at once.
However, with robots, we can make this happen.
UC Berkeley’s Biomimetic Millisystems Lab,
headed by Ron Fearing, has years of experience
building all kinds of different robotic roaches — many
of which have been modeled fairly closely on actual
roaches. However, their latest roachbot makes a
notable departure from the original insect: It’s got a
tail, which actual cockroaches don’t (thank goodness!),
meaning that it can flip itself over with ease.
Little legged robots like this one have used actuated tails for all kinds of things — most notably mid-air
stabilization and assisting in rapid direction changes while running. At 77.5 grams and 18 centimeters long,
this particular robot — called VelociRoACH — has been outfitted with a protective polycarbonate shell
for impact protection, along with a minimal actuated tail to flip it over if it falls onto its back.
The tail and shell combine to create a little legged robot that’s super resilient. It can happily bounce
down a flight of stairs and land on the floor, autonomously right itself in about a quarter of a second, and
skitter off again.
The righting technique is very
reliable, too, as testing showed the
robot to be able to flip over in a
single try on wood, tile, and carpet.
Rocks (both fixed and loose) were
a bit tricker, with success rates
dropping to 80 percent, but since
the robot can just try again with
minimal expenditure of time and
energy, 80 percent is good enough.
Researchers have long been trying to make lectronics that are safe to eat. These include
edible transistors, sensors, batteries, electrodes, and
capacitors, which (if you put them together) make up
most of an edible robot. What’s been missing so far
has been the thing that makes a robot distinct from a
computing system, and that’s an edible actuator that
would allow an ingestible robot to actually do
something useful once you’ve swallowed it. Until now
thanks to researchers from EPFL’s Laboratory of
Intelligent Systems, headed by Dario Floreano.