When you think of advanced robotics, you may envision a roughly human-sized system with a powerful processor or processors, an array of sensors, and multiple physical manipulators. Such robots are impressive, and are used in a wide range of applications, but when you’re putting all of your eggs in one basket — whether its an industrial assembly cell or a rescue operation — if it breaks, you’ve got a big problem.
One alternative would be to not use a robot at all, but instead a team of smaller mechanisms, like the diminutive 10-gram “Tribots” from Professor Jamie Paik and her team of researchers at École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland. The little T-shaped robots consist of three parts, each connected together at a central axis, and linked on the outside via shape-memory alloy (SMA) sections. This configuration allows the tension of each SMA link to produce five distinct locomotion modes. These include walking and crawling, but more impressively, they can also move via vertical and horizontal jumping, and can even somersault in order to clear obstacles.
According to the video below, Tribots are made out of “multiple layers of a functional material,” with all the electronics and mechanical components embedded therein. This “material” looks quite similar to carefully attached and folded PCBs, which would be a great choice given its ease of manufacturing and versatility. While one Tribot is interesting by itself, a group of bots can communicate and work collectively to complete complex tasks.