BionicANTs aka MicroTugs, doing the hazardous and dirty work

Posted by Chuck Harrell on Mar 19, 2016 11:00:00 AM

antsScientists have for a long time been looking at how insects, plants, reptiles, and so on have evolved into the things they are and to use their evolutionary tools to make things for humans to use.

The latest updates in this field is looking at how ants work together to produce cooperative robots that can collectively build objects.  These tiny creatures that infest our homes and gardens may be a complete nuisance but you have to admire their indefatigable spirit.   Their ability to work together in such a cooperative fashion is what is driving Festo's Bionic Learning Network to create unique 3D printed ants. BionicAnts have been programmed to work together to complete a number of tasks that they wouldn't be able to manage on their own.  But this is more than a simple case of programming each ant to perform a single task, they actively communicate with each other, sharing the details of their movement with others in the group.  Although far from ant size, these measure 135 mm x 150 mm, these BionicANTS use piezoceramic blending transducers to move its pincers and legs, 3D stereo cameras as the eyes for self-localization and object detection, and a host of other pieces of technology to communicate with others, antenna for charging rechargeable batteries.  Even at this size, their ability to work together to move objects can be used for  tasks that human fingers struggle to do quickly and efficiently.

Somewhat smaller than BionicANTs, MicroTugs, from Stanford University, can pull objects many times their own weight, both horizontally and vertically. Borrowing heavily from mother nature, the feet of these tiny robots are covered in rubber spikes which increases the surface area and therefore the adhesion, helping them grip onto any surface and lift each leg to slowly pull forward.  To climb walls, the scientists looked at the inchworm which uses half of its body to pull forward while the other half stays attached to the wall, therefore not losing grip.  By scaling these robots up, they could be used in factories to drag pallets around or to drag objects up to emergency situations.

Buy by scaling up both of these technologies and combining them into one industry, they could revolutionize the speed at which buildings are constructed.  Humans can only work for so many hours before they get tired but robots can keep working all day and night.   Tugs can replace cranes and keep lifting heavy steel objects up floor-after-floor, day-after-day, and the BionicaANTs can assemble them as soon as they arrive replacing the laborers.  But beyond just building sites, these 'bots can be used in hazardous locations such as nuclear power plants where it's just too dangerous for humans to venture.  


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