Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have created tiny robots that look like insects. They can perform tasks in hard-to-reach places.

University of Pittsburgh engineers have created insect robots that can take pictures from hard-to-reach places, take water samples, or perform structural assessments.

In any place where there is physically limited access, where people cannot get, our robot will climb.

Junfeng Gao, Ph.D. and student in industrial engineering at the Swanson School of Engineering

For many insects, such as ants, shrimps, praying mantises and fleas, it is more efficient to jump on the surface than to crawl on it. This is the type of impulsive locomotion researchers have replicated in robots. They were made from polymer artificial muscle.

It’s like loading an arrow in a bow and shooting it – robots store energy and then release it with momentum to jump forward. Usually artificial muscles work quite slowly, but we decided to use them to organize an impulse movement.

M. Ravi Shankar, Professor of Industrial Engineering at Pitt

According to Shankar, the curved composite shape of the polymer muscle allows it to store energy and use it for movement. For this, the authors used only a few volts of electricity.

Versatile movement and a lightweight design allow robots that are about the size of a cricket to navigate sand, land and even water.