EPFL Looks to Bats, Locusts for Jumping and Gliding Robots

Insects and flying mice with foldable wings inspire gliding robot designs at EPFL

1 min read
EPFL Looks to Bats, Locusts for Jumping and Gliding Robots

Gliding is a very efficient way for getting from point A to point B. Jumping is a very efficient way of getting into the air at point A, especially if there are a bunch of obstacles between point A and point B that it would be a good idea to be airborne to make it over. Grasshoppers have been doing this for, I dunno, probably like a hundred million years, and roboticists at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), in Switzerland, are starting to design their robots with the same kind of jumping talents and expandable wings as our orthopteran friends.

Here's what EPFL's jumpglider hybrid jumping and gliding robot looks like when it's just jumping and gliding and not trying to fold itself up:

The jumping part, and the crawling around on the ground part, is somewhat impaired by the bot's giant wings, which is why getting this whole folding thing figured out would be pretty cool. Here's the locust-inspired folding mechanism in action:

Locusts aren't the only creatures with wings that cleverly fold up. EPFL are also trying out a system based on bats:

There's also some super secret third bio-inspired design that I can't find any additional info on (yet!), so have fun imagining what other animals might be used as a basis from which to create a gliding robot. Like, you know, elephants. It's all in the ears, man.

[ Mirko Kovac ]

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Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman
LightGreen

“I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.”

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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