Cockroach-Inspired Mini Robots Are Small but Mighty

The next generation of the cockroach mini robot is the size of a penny but mightier than ever.
Fabienne Lang
The new and improved micro robotKaushik Jayaram/Harvard SEAS

It may look tiny but it's robust. The next-generation mini robot can run, jump, and carry payloads all while remaining on a penny. Called HAMR-JR, the cockroach-inspired microrobot was developed by researchers at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), and the Harvard WYSS Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. 

HAMR-JR is an updated model of last year's Harvard Ambulatory Microrobot, or HAMR. 

It's no surprise the researchers chose to base their hardy mini robot off of cockroaches, dubbed to be potential "superbugs."

Their research was presented virtually this week at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA 2020).

One of the most dexterous microrobots to date

"Most robots at this scale are pretty simple and only demonstrate basic mobility," said Kaushik Jayaram, a former postdoctoral fellow at SEAS and Wyss and first author of the paper. "We have shown that you don’t have to compromise dexterity or control for size."

The research tried to see whether or not the pop-up manufacturing process the team previously used for their early-gen HAMR could be used to build robots at different scales. Anything from minute robots like HAMR-JR up to industrial-scale bots. 

The team used a specific process called PC-MEMS (or printed circuit microelectromechanical systems) which is a process in which the robot's components are etched into a 2D sheet, and then pop out as a 3D structure. 


In order to create HAMR-JR, the team simply minimized the 2D sheet design for the robot, to recreate the smaller version of the robot with similar functions. The team managed to answer their initial question of using the same process in order to create a different sized robot.

"The wonderful part about this exercise is that we did not have to change anything about the previous design," explained Jayaram. "We proved that this process can be applied to basically any device at a variety of sizes."

Cockroach-Inspired Mini Robots Are Small but Mighty
Source: Kaushik Jayaram/Harvard SEAS

Now a little bit of information about the mini robot in question. It's been shrunk to 2.25 cm in body length and weighs a light 0.3 grams. It can move at a speed of 14 body lenghts per second, making it scuttle rapidly across space in a way more akin to how a crab would move than a cockroach. Regardless of what bug or anthropod the robot resembles, it's now impressively one of the smallest and fastest mini robots currently available. 

"This new robot demonstrates that we have a good grasp on the theoretical and practical aspects of scaling down complex robots using our folding-based assembly approach," said co-author Robert Wood, Charles River Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences in SEAS and Core Faculty Member of the Wyss.