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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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
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A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof
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In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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