Rolling robot jumps like a grasshopper

A robot that can roll like a ball and jump has been designed for space exploration

The ‘Jollbot’ has been created by Rhodri Armour, a PhD student in Centre for Biomimetic and Natural Technologies at the University of Bath.

Designed to roll over normal terrain, but be able to jump over obstacles, it takes its inspiration from insects.

The result is a spherical cage which can roll in any direction, giving it the manoeuvrability of wheels without the problem of overturning or getting stuck in potholes.

The robot is flexible and small, weighing less than a kilogramme, so that it is not damaged when landing after jumping and is therefore less expensive than conventional exploration robots.

Mr Armour explained:"Others in the past have made robots that jump and robots that roll; but we’ve made the first robot that can do both.

“In nature there are two main types of jumping: hopping, like a kangaroo, which uses its fine control and direct muscle action to propel it along; and ‘pause and leap’, such as in a grasshopper, which stores muscle energy in spring-like elements and rapidly releases it to make the jump.

“We’ve made a robot that jumps in a similar way to the grasshopper, but uses electrical motors to slowly store the energy needed to leap in its springy skeleton.

“Before jumping, the robot squashes its spherical shape. When it is ready, it releases the stored energy all at once to jump to heights of up to half a metre.”

Mr Armour, who has just submitted his PhD thesis, took measurements using a high speed camera to analyse how the robot jumped and to predict how it might behave in a low-gravity environment, such as might be found on small planets and moons in space exploration.

He added: “Future prototypes could include a stretchy skin covered in solar cells on the outside of the robot, so it could power itself, and robotic control sensors to enable it to sense its environment.”

The components of the robot were made by rapid prototyping technology, similar to that used by the RepRap machine pioneered by the University, which builds parts by “printing” layers of plastic on top of each other to produce a 3D object.

Author
Tom Shelley

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