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Researcher Creates Insect-Like Four-Legged Robots

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The robots function as a united swarm.

Small insects like ants and bees utilize what’s known as a “hive mind,” with every individual insect acting as a small part of a collective whole. This methodology allows insects to accomplish feats of cooperation and coordination that would normally be impossible if they were acting individually. By applying such a principle to robotics, a new kind of thinking machine can be created, one that deploys in multiple bodies to accomplish complex tasks.

Robotics engineer Yasemin Ozkan-Aydin, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at the University of Notre Dame, has developed a prototype set of multi-legged swarm robots that can work together to solve all sorts of simple problems.

“Legged robots can navigate challenging environments such as rough terrain and tight spaces, and the use of limbs offers effective body support, enables rapid maneuverability and facilitates obstacle crossing,” Ozkan-Aydin said in her research paper published in Science Robotics. Her swarm robots were made to complete experimental tasks such as crossing flat surfaces or lifting small objects. When one unit couldn’t solve the problem alone or was otherwise stuck, it’d send a signal to its sibling units to come and assist it.

“When ants collect or transport objects, if one comes upon an obstacle, the group works collectively to overcome that obstacle. If there’s a gap in the path, for example, they will form a bridge so the other ants can travel across—and that is the inspiration for this study,” she said. “Through robotics we’re able to gain a better understanding of the dynamics and collective behaviors of these biological systems and explore how we might be able to use this kind of technology in the future.”

Ozkan-Aydin’s current concern with her design is the battery life, which she’s hoping to extend up to 10 hours or more. If she could improve the battery and strengthen the motor, she could start devising real-world applications.