This locust-sized robot would fit into your hand

Talk about a tiny robot.

Israeli scientists have developed a robot that is only five inches long and weighs less than an ounce. But this robot is no pushover. Inspired by the movements of a locust, it can jump 11 feet high -- more than twice the height of similar-sized robots -- and cover a horizontal distance of 4.5 feet in one leap.

"Our locust-inspired miniature jumping robot is a beautiful example of bio-inspired technological innovation," Tel Aviv University’s Amir Ayali, who developed the robot with Ort Braude College, said in a statement. "Miniature robots are of special interest in the robotics field, attracting a lot of attention and research. The manufacture of tiny robots is cheap and efficient; their small size allows them to traverse difficult and unknown terrain; and many can be used in any given situation."

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Since the 1980s, robots have played an increasingly role in helping search and rescue operations in manmade and natural disasters.  The objective of such robots, in various sizes and shapes, has been to intervene where humans cannot and send life-saving data to rescue teams in the field.

"The uses for such a robot are limited only by
your imagination," Ayali told "Its small (i.e. hard to detect) it's cheap (i.e. can be mass manufactured). It was designed to have a very small self-weight leaving room for any kind of onboard sensor you wish."

In the case of the locus robot, the scientists printed out the body of the robot on a 3D printer. Admittedly, it isn’t much to look like. The robot's legs were composed of stiff carbon rods, and its torsion springs of steel wire. A small on-board battery powers the robot, which is remotely controlled through an on-board microcontroller.

"Our research is a true interdisciplinary biology-engineering collaborative effort," said Ayali, who also has been involved in developing a caterpillar-inspired soft robot, remote-controlled flying real locust and is studying cockroach locomotion with implications for six-legged robotics.

"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," he said.

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This robot, however, isn't meant to look exactly like a locust. It has no wings nor does it have the shell of this insect. Rather, the locust served more as an inspiration, especially its movements and jumping ability.

A locust catapults itself in a three-stage process. First, the legs are bent in the preparation stage. Then the legs are locked in place at the joint. Finally, a sudden release of the flexor muscle on the upper leg unlocks the joint and causes a rapid release of energy. This creates a fast-kicking movement of the legs that propels the locust into the air.

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And like the locust, this robot’s jump is due to its ability to store energy in its torsion springs.

Next up, the researchers are working on a gliding mechanism that will enable the robot to extend its jumping range, lower its landing impact, execute multiple steered jumps and stabilize while airborne.