SMA Robot Jumps 7 Times Its Height, Weighs Nothing

This is some seriously cool research. Scientists at the EPFL (Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne) have made tiny, tiny, tiny robots using shape memory alloys, or SMA’s for short. They weigh less than 4 grams and move like an inchworm!

Unlike regular robots that feature rigid structures and electric actuators, the researchers opted to take more of an origami like approach — so much so, they call it robogami. Their very first attempt was years ago, and was rather large. Since then they’ve shrunk it down to about the size of a compact flash card. The way it works is quite simple. SMA’s shrink when heated (either externally heated or by an internal current) and in doing so, produce extremely high forces.

So by patterning these in a shape (like that of an inchworm) the researchers are able to trigger each “limb” separately to induce movement. They can also jump seven times their height thanks to the super high power-density of SMA’s.

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Tribot robotics platform

For a number of children born of geek parents, the WowWee Tribot is sure to make an appearance underneath a Christmas tree this year. By New Year’s, though, this toy will surely make its way to the back of a closet to sit unused until spring cleaning. It’s a shame to let such an interesting robotics platform go to waste, so [haltux] sent in a nice guide to unlocking the motor controller of this talking robot.

The ‘legs’ of the WowWee Tribot have three omnidirectional wheels mounted 120 degrees apart. We’ve seen this drive system before, so getting a pre-built platform out of the toy box is pretty interesting.

[haltux] found three H-bridges inside the Tribot and connected the direction and enable pins for each motor directly to an Arduino. The build was a success, and the new robot platform scurried along the floor. There are also rotary encoders on the Tribot, but these run at 12 Volts. [haltux] said he’ll cover these in a future post, and we’re waiting to see it.