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Robotic assistance in natural disaster scenarios is one of the leading goals of current research and development in the field. The hefty price tag some of these machines carry is inconsequential when juxtaposed with the advantages of sending in a mechanical operative into a dangerous, risk-prone site, thus reducing further danger to human lives.

Advanced robots have been providing assistance to search and rescue teams since the 1980s, intervening in both manmade and natural disasters with increasing success and efficiency. These machines can now perform a variety of tasks, from sending invaluable data on structural integrity of the site and the medical needs of those trapped inside to human rescuers, to performing advanced victim evacuation maneuvers.

A new robot developed by scientists from Tel Aviv University (TAU) and Ort Braude College (OBC) is set to make an important advancement to the field. “TAUB” (which stand for “Tel Aviv University and Ort Braude College”) is just over 12.5 cm long and weighs less than 30 grammes. It can jump 3.4 m high – over twice the height that similar sized robots can – and over a horizontal distance of 1.4 m.

The tiny robot’s body is 3D prints from ABS plastic (the same tough material used for Lego blocks), with legs made from stiff carbon rods, and torsion springs from steel wired. The robot is wired by a small on-board battery, and is remotely controlled by an on-board microcontroller.

The researchers focused on replicating the biomechanical properties of a locust’s jump mechanism, rather than trying to create a mechanical copy of the insect. A locust jumps in three-stage manner, with the legs first bending in preparation, then locking in place at the joint, and finally releasing its flexor muscle to unlock the joint and create a fast-kicking movement. This mechanism of storing mechanical energy in the joint is what allows locust to perform its jumps and that the scientists tried to replicate.

The team is now working on adding a gliding mechanism to the machine to extend its jumping range, lower its landing impact, and to execute multiple steered jumps. This will greatly expand the possible applications of TAUB.