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Robot design commonly mimics the abilities of their human creators, but some researchers have been inspired by a possibly unexpected creature: an ant.

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From the Sophia robot that can hold a  conversation to Romeo, who’s designed   to help with elderly care, there are plenty of  robots who are designed to mimic human abilities. But some researchers are taking inspiration  from other, maybe unexpected creatures: ants.

These robots are called Tribots, and they  don’t have lots of legs like you might   expect from an ant-inspired robot. Really,  they look like creepers from Minecraft. But it’s because the legs  aren’t the point.

Instead,   these robots are inspired by trap-jaw  ants and their amazing mandibles. Trap-jaws have powerful mandibles that can  spring shut at more than 200 kilometers per hour. This launches them into their air,  springing them away from danger.

So, forget the legs: Tribots  are basically all mandibles. They’re mainly a printed, folded-up  circuit board with a few extra components. Then, springs and actuators connect the  legs and act like the robot’s muscles,   powering their jumps.

By controlling the angle and power of the legs  when they launch, the Tribot can jump for height,   distance, or to clear an obstacle.  And for just walking on flat ground,   it crawls like an inchworm. The applications of this are a little  squishy, but Tribots could work in industry,   like surveying or spraying down a warehouse  with disinfectant. Or they might check if   crops are ready to be harvested — a task where  larger robots might cause more damage than good.

Really, there are a lot of possibilities. Now, these aren’t the first little robots,   but they take a totally different  approach from other designs. Similar sized robots use wheels to get around,  so they need additional hardware to jump.

That means they end up with lots of moving parts,   which makes them harder to make and  statistically more likely to break. But Tribots get the same range of motion  with just a handful of moving pieces. That said, since these things are so small,  they can’t get much done on their own.   So their power really comes in  their ability to work together.

In a 2019 paper, researchers  demonstrated this by having the   robots move a block that was too  heavy for one bot to move alone. To do it, the Tribots coordinated  by taking on different roles. One bot took on the leader  role to coordinate the effort.

Then, under the leader’s instructions, two  worker Tribots got in place to do the pushing   while a monitor kept watch on the other  side to measure how far the block had moved. Each bot had two infrared sensors they could use  to talk to each other within a one-meter range. But the signals couldn’t get through the  block, so a fifth robot became a messenger,   relaying signals between the monitor and leader so  that the workers would know when to stop pushing.

One of the coolest things is,   any Tribot can take on any role, so if something  goes wrong for one, another can jump in. And compared to other robots  with similar mobility,   the Tribot is lighter and  more energy-efficient, too. So, while big, human-sized robots will  probably always have a place, the future   of robotics might have some smaller players,  too.

All in the name of getting things done. This episode of SciShow is brought to you by none  other than SR Foxley, today’s President of Space! SR is one of our patrons on Patreon,  and along with our other patrons,   they keep SciShow going.

So, thanks SR!  And thanks to our whole patron community. If you want to learn how to support the show   and become our next President of Space,  you can go to [♪ OUTRO].