Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley developed a post-stamp robot with the actual speed and durability of the insect that inspired it. Similar to a cockroach, the small dressing bug weighs in at less than one tenth of a gram, but still works after shedding about 60 kg (132 kg) or about 1 million times its own weight.
"Most of the robots on this small scale are very weak. If you go past them, you almost destroy the robot," said Liwei Lin, a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Berkeley and lead author of a new study describing the robot. "We found that if we put weight on our robot, it still works more or less."
The robot is composed of a thin sheet of piezoelectric polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) coated with an elastic polymer to bend the PVDF sheet as a bow. Loaded by an oscillating electric field, the material quickly straightens and bends rapidly, allowing its front leg to pull the robot forward at about the same speed (20 bodies long per second) as a real cockroach.
Although the robot is currently "connected," the Berkeley team is currently working on adding battery and gas sensors while also improving its ability to get around obstacles. The researchers envision the robot used to investigate debris in dangerous search and rescue missions.
A study detailing the robot error is presented in a current issue of Scientific Robotics.