JumpRoACH Is a Robotic Bug That Leaps and Flips Just Like an Insect

This little robot can make targeted jumps and then flip itself over like a real bug

3 min read
JumpRoACH, a robotic insect from SNU and UC Berkeley.
Photo: Evan Ackerman/IEEE Spectrum

In the quest for the most capable robotic bug (which is a quest that many roboticists seem to be on, because robotic bugs are nifty), some of the most exciting designs are inspired by the dynamic, multi-modal ways in which insects are conquering the world. Combining skills like running with skills like jumping can make little robots much more efficient movers, allowing them to go farther on a charge as well as helping them surmount obstacles and rough terrain.

Most of the small jumping robots we’ve seen before use a spring mechanism with a latch on it. The latch makes the spring state binary: the spring gets all wound up, the latch holds it, and then disengages on command, releasing all of the energy in the spring in one go. You can get a lot of power this way, but it’s an all or nothing sort of thing, so the magnitude (height, distance, whatever) isn’t controllable. 

At Seoul National University, South Korea, researchers have developed a new kind of jumping mechanism for robots that can potentially scale from itty bitty hops all the way up to aircraft carrier catapult launch (or almost). In collaboration with UC Berkeley, they’ve managed to stuff this thing into a familiar hexapedal crawler that we’re all familiar with (DASH), with the end result being a running, jumping robot called JumpRoACH that only weighs 60 grams but has an incredible 1.6 meters worth of hops.

Apparently, the robot can jump onto any of those shelves that it wants, but the video was put together at the last minute and they didn’t get a chance to film all of it. They also didn’t get a chance to properly fix the robot after it smashed itself into that table (watch until the end), which is why its wing looks a little bit funky in the picture at the top of this article.


Image: SNU/UC Berkeley
These images show the jumping module in the state of fully stored energy (A) and the released state (B); a CAD model of the jumping module (C); and the rubber routing (D).

The jumping mechanism itself consists of a diamond-shaped four-bar linkage with joints like knees. Eight latex bands are used to store energy as they stretch when the linkage is compressed, which happens thanks to a wire, a pulley, and a DC motor. In between the pulley and the motor is a bunch of gearing, including a planetary gear that acts as a clutch when the rotation of the motor reverses. This is what allows the robot to adjust its jump height: the motor can wind up the linkage to store as much energy as you like, and then reverse itself to trigger the jump.

The module by itself can manage nearly 3 meters vertically, and when crammed inside the robot (DASH is apparently mostly hollow), it can reach between 1.1 and 1.6 meters. The motor that drives the jumping mechanism also actuates those shells, which the robot uses to right itself.

Unfortunately, there are no wings under the shells yet, but we’ve already seen how much even very basic wings can benefit fast moving little robots. Actual powered flight is probably not going to be possible for this particular platform, but gliding might be, which could substantially extend the distance that the robot travels with each jump.

“An Integrated Jumping-Crawling Robot using Height-Adjustable Jumping Module,” by Gwang-Pil Jung, Carlos S. Casarez, Sun-Pill Jung, Ronald S. Fearing, and Kyu-Jin Cho, from Seoul National University and UC Berkeley, was presented this month at ICRA 2016 in Stockholm, Sweden.

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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
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

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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