Soft Micro-Surge Drives Boost Robot Mobility

Scientists have developed a new miniature internal combustion engine, providing the Frog Robot with the unique ability for explosive jumping and accurate movement control.

Most robots currently rely on electric drives. However, researchers from the organic robotics laboratory at Cornell University argue that the use of an engine fueled by chemicals instead of electricity can overcome the limitations of modern batteries, which are heavy and lack high energy intensity.

A team of scientists created drives with a diameter of approximately 5 mm that utilize methane and oxygen to fuel a combustion chamber with a volume of 0.09 ml. A highly elastic silicone membrane covers the upper part of the chamber, acting as a piston. During combustion, the membrane expands and compresses rapidly, propelling the gases through small holes.

The entire process occurs rapidly, and the membrane protrudes more forcefully with increased “explosion” power. The drives can withstand chamber expansion of up to 140% and generate a force exceeding 9.5 N.

The researchers integrated these drives into a robotic thumb with four rigid paws. The robot’s control system allows for adjustments in spark frequency, fuel ratio, and fuel flow. Remarkable results were achieved: the robot could crawl, jump to different heights, and rotate in various directions. The robotic frog achieved a jump height of 56 cm.

These internal combustion micro-engines have the potential to enhance the mobility of robots’ limbs, such as the legs of the Atlas robot, or enable robots to deliver high-impact explosive strikes.

The study conducted by the scientists was published in the journal Science.

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