UC Berkeley engineers have developed an insect-sized robot based on the principle of sticky footpads found on some of these creatures, called electrostatic adhesion. This robot is capable of swerving and pivoting with the agility of a cheetah, thus enabling it to traverse complex terrain quickly while avoiding unexpected obstacles. It’s made from a thin, layered material that bends and contracts when an electric voltage is applied. Read more for two videos and additional information.
The team’s latest insect-sized robot boasts two electrostatic footpads, and applying a voltage to either of them increases the electrostatic force between the footpad and a surface, making it adhere more firmly to the surface and forcing the rest of the robot to rotate around the foot. Simply put, it gives operators full control over the trajectory of the robot, which enables them to make turns with a centripetal acceleration that exceeds that of most insects.
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Our original robot could move very, very fast, but we could not really control whether the robot went left or right, and a lot of the time it would move randomly, because if there was a slight difference in the manufacturing process — if the robot was not symmetrical — it would veer to one side. In this work, the major innovation was adding these footpads that allow it to make very, very fast turns,” said Liwei Lin, a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Berkeley.