This tiny, soft robo-bug scoots with smarts and survives swats
2019-12-20 15:04

Nature is a good source of inspiration for roboticists, but it's rare that nature's elegance and genius can be replicated in any real way. Still, we're getting closer. This tiny insect-like robot is made of soft materials and weighs less than a gram, yet can move quickly and with some intelligence — and is robust enough to survive a pounding from a fly swatter.

大自然是机器人科学家的灵感之源,但复制大自然的优雅和天才殊非易事。不过,我们距离这个目标已经越来越接近了。上面这个看起来像昆虫的微型机器人由软质材料制成,重量只有不到 1 克,但它却可以快速移动,并具有一定的智能——而且,这个机器人非常坚固,可以承受苍蝇拍的拍击。

For the most part, tiny robots like this are compromises. For instance, they can move quickly, but only with external power. Or they can navigate intelligently, but only by being controlled remotely. Or they're power efficient, but unable to move quickly or intelligently.


The DEAnsect, so called for being made of “dielectric elastomer actuators,” is an attempt to create a robot that combines locomotion, intelligence and efficiency into a single package — even if it's only a little bit of each.

今天要介绍的机器人名为 “DEAnsect”,其中 DEA 是指 “介电弹性体致动器”。通过这个机器人,研究人员试图将移动能力、智能和能效集于一身,即便每一项都只占一点点。

It moves with three little legs, each of which advances ever so slightly when an electric current changes the shape of the elastomer they're made of, pulling the robot forward a tiny bit. This happens many times per second, too fast for us to see, and giving the impression that the robot is sort of gliding forward at a rate of 0.3 body lengths per second. That's not much compared to a cockroach or spider, but it's pretty good compared to other self-powered small robots.

DEAnsect 通过 3 只小腿移动,每当电流改变弹性体的形状时,这些小腿就会略微前进一点,从而带动机器人向前移动。这一切每秒会发生很多次,快到我们肉眼无法察觉。这样一来,我们能够看到的是,DEAnsect 能够以每秒 0.3 个自身体长的速度向前滑动。这个速度跟蟑螂或蜘蛛相比无足称道,但相较于其他自供电的微型机器人已经是相当不错了。

The efficiency and sturdiness of these parts is a new record for soft robotics, and the DEAnsect is strong enough to carry around not just a battery but a bit of onboard electronics (amounting to some five times its own 190 milligram weight) that let it operate with some rudimentary logic. For example, by attaching a tiny optical sensor the robot can be made to follow a black line and not stray onto a white surface.

就软体机器人而言,DEAnsect 的能效以及零部件的坚固程度创造了新的纪录。而且,DEAnsect 足够强壮,不仅可以携带电池,还能携带一些板载电子元件(重量可达其 190 毫克自重的 5 倍),这让它能够遵循一些基本的逻辑运行。例如,研究人员可以在它的身上安装一个微小的光学传感器,这样就可以让机器人沿着黑线前行,且从不走到白色表面上。

It's also able to withstand a bit of abuse, fittingly in the form of a fly swatter, as you see in the gif at top. Of course, it needs to be scraped off the floor there first, but it's very much to the robot's credit that it can scoot again with no delay afterwards.

如前面的 GIF 动画所示,DEAnsect 还能够承受一点 “虐待”,不怕苍蝇拍的拍击。当然,你还得把它从地板上取下来恢复原状,而值得称赞的是,恢复之后的机器人又能毫无迟滞地移动。

Naturally there isn't much a robot like this can do right now, but it's a promising accomplishment nevertheless, showing a number of interesting ways forward in the soft robotics field.


DEAnsect was created by Xiaobin Ji and Matthias Imboden at EPFL's Soft Transducers Laboratory and the rest of their team there. The robot is described in a paper published today in the journal Science Robotics.

DEAnsect 由洛桑联邦理工学院(EPFL)Soft Transducers 实验室的季晓斌(Xiaobin Ji,音译)、马蒂亚斯·英博登(Matthias Imboden)及团队其他成员共同创造,他们的研究论文发表在周三出版的 《科学-机器人》(Science Robotics)杂志上。

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