A new robot inspired by the vampire bat can jump and glide efficiently, reaching heights of more than 9 feet. The robot, called MultiMo-Bat, was designed to explore new strategies for integrating multiple modes of mobility and enhance the performance of small-scale robotic systems.
“Current works have attempted this by means of a combination of independent locomotion modes, however this results in a very heavy and large system, with modes not designed to work together,” says MultiMo-Bat researcher Matthew Woodward of Carnegie Mellon University. “This strategy results in significant performance loss for all modes and in the end, eliminates the mobility gain achieved by adding the additional mode.”
Together with Metin Sitti, Director of Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems, Woodward decided to look at multi-modal locomotion schemes in the living world. Woodward says they focused on creatures that can jump, because they thought jumping would be a good technique for obstacle avoidance. Gliding just seemed like a natural addition. The researchers knew that if he could get both modes to work using the same structure and actuation components, they could lower the robot’s mass and volume, and make the two modes work better together.
The common vampire bat makes the perfect model, Woodward says, because it uses the same arms and pectorals for both jumping and gliding. So the gliding system has minimal negative impact on jump height. Weighing in at 0.25 pounds, MultiMo-Bat robot can currently jump more than 9 feet in the air with the gliding gear in place – that’s 80 percent as high as it can jump without it.
Woodward notes that as a lightweight and inexpensive robot, it’s ideal for swarm scenarios. “These features can create a mobile sensor network well suited for exploration of hazardous and/or sensitive environments,” he explains. “Since they can be deployed in large numbers they can relay real-time information about a large area with minimal impact and minimal personnel. So applications in search-and-rescue and environmental monitoring are perfect for this type of system.”
The research team plans to add an onboard controller, so that they can direct the system throughout its locomotion cycle. Woodward says they also hope to improve the actuators and energy storage for jumping, as well as build larger wings for better gliding.
You can find more information on MultiMo-Bat in the October 2014 issue of the International Journal of Robotics.