Insect-sized robots unveiled by UI experts | Inquirer Technology

Insect-sized robots can leap 60 times their body size

07:47 AM November 17, 2023

University of Illinois researchers created minuscule robots that can leap 60 times their body size. Interesting Engineering said it expands these insect-sized bots’ agricultural and maintenance applications. Also, the study’s lead author said it “gives the robot planned mobility, where it can now jump from A to B, traversing terrain rougher than its own size.”

Sometimes, the greatest innovations are adjustments to existing products and services. Many have tried creating insect-sized robots with similar features but failed due to design constraints. Fortunately, associate professor Sameh Tawfick and his team made them work using different methods. Soon, his bots may become common in modern farms.

This article will discuss how scientists make their insect-sized robots. Later, I will share a few innovations related to robotics and agriculture.


How do these insect-sized robots work?

Sameh Tawfick, the associate professor at the University of Illinois’ Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering, said typical jumpers need at least two actuator systems for flexible energy storage and jump triggering.


That results in complicated designs with numerous components. These require small-scale manufacturing procedures and restricted availability of materials.

That is why Tawfick’s team created a monolithic elastomeric robot design inspired by a locust’s leaping motion using projection additive printing and coiled artificial muscle actuators. 


The group used a four-bar linkage design for leaping inspired by the locust. The animal’s four legs are not linked, but the scientists’ robot relies on one muscle serving as a linkage system. 

Tawfick’s prototype has a lightweight elastomer body and an artificial muscle made from a heat-treated nylon fishing line. He and his colleagues tested 108 robot iterations.

The smallest one’s mass was 0.216 grams, and it can jump 60 times its body size in horizontal distance. The Mechanical Science & Engineering webpage said developing this insect-sized robot is useful for agricultural and maintenance applications. 

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For example, future robots could have sensors that gather data from checking a crop or a machine. Conversely, a regular drone has propellers that may get tangled in plant stems and electrical wiring. 

“These robots can reach locations that drones currently cannot,” Tawfick explained. “They are inexpensive to mass manufacture, which gives them a lot of utility for sensing as a fleet.”

Nowadays, the team is exploring motion planning so that its robots can take the most efficient path and maximize battery life. “This would allow us to test its ability to go to a designated point, gather images, and return to its start,” Tawfick said.

What are the other AI innovations?

Collage of various AI-related images representing the diverse innovations in artificial intelligence.
Photo Credit:

Professor Sameh Tawfick believes his insect-sized robots could become useful in agriculture. However, many scientists have been innovating with farm technology.

For example, US-based firm Avalo created an artificial intelligence model that facilitates the creation of climate-resilient crops. The new AI crop system can simulate the effects of changes to a plant’s genome, which can reduce the 15-year lead time to two or three.

As a result, they could significantly cut research times for enhanced fruits and vegetables. “You can design the perfect genotype in silico [i.e., in simulation] and then do intensive breeding and watch for that genotype,” explained Collins. Also, AI has been improving agriculture in the following ways:

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  • Crop predictions: Contrary to popular belief, you can’t plant whatever you want anytime. You must consider various conditions to ensure maximum yield and quality. Fortunately, artificial intelligence can expedite this process by checking soil quality and weather conditions.
  • Robot field monitoring: Some companies have integrated AI systems into drones to monitor crops. They detect pest infestations, soil moisture, and crop health so farmers can adjust them immediately.
  • Automated planting: AI drones also help plant seeds automatically, removing the need for roving agricultural vehicles or workers.
  • Automated harvesting: Robots also harvest crops nowadays. For example, Israelis use it to pick pears because they lack people willing to do it.
  • Eliminating weeds safely: Some companies use AI-powered vehicles that fire lasers at weeds to eliminate them without harming crops. Also, they’re overwhelmingly efficient, doing “the equivalent work of about 70 people.”


University of Illinois scientists created insect-sized robots that can jump heights 60 times higher than them. They used a design that fits multiple features into one component, enabling their bot to outclass similar ones. 

They believe their bot can become essential agricultural and maintenance equipment. Also, they could reach spots drones cannot, enabling their users to gather more data about specific objects or areas.

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Learn more about these insect-sized robots on its IOPScience webpage. Moreover, check out more digital tips and trends at Inquirer Tech.

TOPICS: AI, interesting topics, Robot, Science and technology, Trending
TAGS: AI, interesting topics, Robot, Science and technology, Trending

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