Tiny jumper, just 3.4 mm long, showcases biomimicry of nature’s athletic achievements
Although fleas are annoying pests, credit must be given where it’s due. These tiny creatures, just 3 millimeters long, can leap as far as 330 millimeters in a single hop—a distance close to 100 times their own body length. Now a similar feat has been achieved by a miniature robot.
“We were inspired by fleas in nature, which despite their small size can unleash tremendous potential and jump close to 100 times their body length. No one in the field of robotics has been able to achieve this feat yet,” says Ruide Yun, a third-year Ph.D. student at Beihang University, in Beijing, who was involved in the study.
To acquire flealike jumping abilities, the robot had to be able to unleash a lot of energy at once, so Yun and his colleagues created one that works somewhat like a miniature piston engine. But instead of relying on the combustion of fuel, the engine releases a high-voltage electric discharge between the positive and negative electrodes inside the piston chamber, heating the air inside the piston and causing it to expand. After the discharge ends, the air inside the chamber cools, and the piston returns to its original position, waiting for the next discharge. “Through this cycle, a reciprocating motion can be obtained, driving the robot to crawl and jump,” explains Yun.