Researchers at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne have built a tiny, foldable robot that weighs only four grams.
Tribot is one of two lightweight bots built by the École's Reconfigurable Robotics Laboratory. Its two modes of movement—crawling and jumping—take their cues from the inchworm and the flea, and its foldability and structure was inspired by origami. Like the flea, Tribot can jump several times its height, and does not need adjustment after a jump, so it can hurdle over obstacles and continue crawling.
To create a robot that light, researchers had to turn away from using typical motors and find a new way to power the bot's movement. They ended up using springs and actuators made from shape memory alloy, which "remember" their initial shape and reform after being stretched. Shape memory alloy is also used in the lab's other miniature bot, a four-sided crawler.
The practical applications of these bots has yet to be determined, but the unique and impressive thing about them is how easy it would be to ship them in large quantities. They could be packaged flat and assembled by the end user—"like Ikea furniture," says the team's leader Jamie Paik.