Tiny robot leaps around carrying its own battery, electronics

Tiny robot leaps around carrying its own battery, electronics

Enlarge / A Tribot leaps ahead of its peers. (credit: EPFL)

Robots have traditionally been roughly humanoid in form, which has some obvious advantages, in that the robots are better able to integrate into a human-designed environment. But there are lots of environments that aren’t human designed, and researchers have been experimenting with robotic forms that look more like insects or fish. Now, a team of Swiss researchers has produced a robot that looks like nothing more than a walking circuit board. Despite its small size, though, the robot is able to move by hopping, leaping, or walking, and it can even work in a group to coordinate activities.

Meet Tribot

The team calls its creation Tribot, for reasons that are obvious from its photo above. Tribot looks like a tiny circuit board because that’s what it largely is, but there are some significant additions to the circuitry.

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Flying, insect-like robot flits closer to independent flight

Flying, insect-like robot flits closer to independent flight

Enlarge / The RoboBee X­Wing without its power and electronics. (credit: Noah T. Jafferis and E. Farrell Helbling, Harvard Microrobotics Laboratory)

Just over six years ago, when researchers at Harvard announced that they had made tiny flying robots, they immediately began talking about the prospect of their tiny creations operating autonomously in complicated environments. That seemed wildly optimistic, given that the robots flew by trailing a set of copper wires that brought power and control instructions; the robots were guided by a computer that monitored their positions using a camera.

Since then, however, the team has continued working on refining the tiny machines, giving them enhanced landing capabilities, for example. And today, the team is announcing the first demonstration of self-powered flight. The flight is very short and isn’t self-controlled, but the tiny craft manages to carry both the power supply circuitry and its own power source.

A

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Researchers make a robotic fish with a battery for blood

Researchers make a robotic fish with a battery for blood

Enlarge (credit: James Pikul)

Lots of experimental robots involve a little bit of cheating. Rather than containing all the necessary electronics and energy sources, they have tethers and wires that provide power and control without weighing the robot down or taking up too much internal space. This is especially true for soft-bodied robots, which typically pump air or fluids to drive their motion. Having to incorporate a power source, pumps, and a reservoir of gas or liquid would significantly increase the weight and complexity of the robot.

A team from Cornell University has now demonstrated a clever twist that cuts down on the weight and density of all of this by figuring out how to get one of the materials to perform two functions. Like other soft robot designs, it pumps a fluid to cause its structure to expand and contract, powering movements. But in this case, the fluid is

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