These jumping robots were inspired by real-life ants in terms of their movement and how they work together. These bots use infrared and proximity sensors to communicate with one another. (Image credit: EPFL)


Size isn’t necessarily a disadvantage. Just think about ants. They’re small, but a team of ants working together can move objects larger than their bodies. By coming together, they can tackle larger than life tasks. This served as the inspiration for new tiny robots with similar skills. Developed by researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne, these small “Tribots” can jump or crawl across surfaces and communicate with each other to complete tasks.


These bots are origami robots consisting of three legs that are autonomous and untethered. They’re equipped with infrared and proximity sensors to help them detect and communicate with other robots. The bots can be built in only a few minutes by folding a stack of thin, multi-material sheets, which makes them ideal for mass production. Using Odontomachus ants as an inspiration, the bots snap close and launch themselves to move around.


"Their movements are modeled on those of Odontomachus ants. These insects normally crawl, but to escape a predator, they snap their powerful jaws together to jump from leaf to leaf," says Zhenishbek Zhakypov, first author of the paper.


Because of their origami design which allows them to have multiple shapes, a single robot has five distinct gaits: vertical jumping, horizontal jumping, somersaulting, walking on textured terrain, and crawling on flat surfaces. On their own, the bots aren’t very smart. It’s when they’re connected together that they can solve problems, like how to get around an obstacle or how to move a large object. The bots have some autonomy, but they’re each assigned one of three roles: worker, for strength to move objects, explorer, for finding physical obstacles, or leader, for instructing others.


“With their unique collective intelligence, our tiny robots can demonstrate better adaptability to unknown environments; therefore, for certain missions, they would outperform larger, more powerful robots.”


So how can these jumping robots be applied in real-world situations? They could be used for search and rescue missions since they don’t rely on GPS to communicate. And their multi-locomotive and multi-agent communication abilities could allow them to find a target quickly over a large surface without relying on visual feedback. They’re also easy to produce meaning bots could keep working even if some of them get lost along the way. And because they’re so adaptable, they could prove to be more effective when heading into unfamiliar environments.



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