Humans and locusts haven’t always gotten along. There was a time long long ago, or so it is told, that a plague of locusts were to have swarmed rampant to the point of “covering the face of the ground so that it cannot be seen by devouring what little you have left after the hail, including every tree that is growing in your fields. They filled your houses and” so on and so forth (Ex. 10:1–20).
Then, in more recent times, you may have found yourself in western Missouri while Albert’s swarm was taking hold. Just pretend for a moment there’s you on your mid-western country porch enjoying a cup of joe while relishing on your recent success after the California gold rush and then suddenly, lo and behold, you are dealt the unfortunate hand of having to deal with 3.5 trillion locusts darkening the sky, doing their unwelcome deed, on your plot of land. That is correct; 3.5 trillion.
History is wrought with tales of these pesky Invertebrates to be sure. But if humans are good at anything, it’s being able to take away from where nature succeeds and then to stir and manipulate the pot, to modify and take control of its organic ingenuity and at the very least take advantage thereof.
A research department at Tel Aviv University has been working hard to capture the essence of nature’s locust and convert it into robot form. TAUB (short for “Tel Aviv University an Ort Braude College”) is a 5” locust inspired 3D printed creation that is able to jump 11 feet high and 4.5 feet across.
While the inspiration behind this project is based around these historical nuisances, the focus was on some of their unique features. The locust, for example, uses a three stage process to catapult itself upward. Starting from a bent legged preparation stage before a joint locking click-blip followed by a quick release transition of the flexor muscles, these researchers have unlocked a fantastic spring mechanism based around evolutionary physics for their tiny robotic recreations. (more)
Professor Amir Ayall admits fully where his research branches out from. He’s stated that “Our research is a true interdisciplinary biology-engineering collaborative effort. Biological knowledge, gained by observing and studying locusts, was combined with state-of-the-art engineering and cutting-edge technologies, allowing biological principles to be implemented in a miniature robotic jumping mechanism.”
Luckily, the goal of this research isn’t to invade the planet with a modern day plague, but instead as a force for good. The researchers behind this project believe the small size of the creatures could benefit in search-and-rescue missions and reconnaissance operations in rough terrain.
From a technical standpoint, stiff carbon rods for the legs, torsion steel wired springs, a small battery and micro-controller along with an ABS printed body were used to bring life to these mechanized, miniature jumping robotos.
As with other nature inspired robotic endeavours, improvement is key. Admitting that the robot doesn’t imitate the locust in all ways but instead mostly around their jumping ability, they hope to further their research by adding a gliding mechanism that will enable the robot to extend its jumping range, lower its landing impact and gain more mid-jump control so as to further the ability to succeed in real-world rescue situations.
While not impossible without 3D printing, research projects world-wide are made more accessible by the technology and its fast-quick ability to prototype on the cheap. Additionally for me, if it wasn’t for projects like this, I would never have learned that, via Professor Amir Ayall’s website, Animal Swarms – an international, multidisciplinary workshop dedicated to the understanding of animal swarms – ever existed; and that would be a shame.