Say hello to HAMR-Jr, the little robot—inspired by insects—that can do incredible things.

This machine, the brainchild of CU Boulder engineer Kaushik Jayaram and colleagues at Harvard University, gives a whole new meaning to the word small: HAMR-Jr can just about squeeze onto the surface of a penny and weighs far less than a paperclip.

But don’t let its size fool you. This four-legged robot can also carry up to 10 times its own weight in cargo and hits top speeds that, for its size, are comparable to a cheetah bounding over the Serengeti.

“HAMR-Jr can achieve gaits that approach an animal-like mechanical dexterity, demonstrating that we do not need to compromise design complexity or manufacturability to reduce the size of our robots,” said Jayaram, an assistant professor in the Paul M. Rady Department of Mechanical Engineering.

Jayaram led the design of this little-robot-that-could while he was working as a postdoctoral scholar in Harvard’s Microrobotics Lab led by Professor Robert Wood. (HAMR stands for the Harvard Ambulatory MicroRobot). It’s half the length of its predecessor, HAMR-VI, making it one of the smallest and fastest robots in the world.

HAMR-Jr by the numbers

Length: 22.5 millimeters (0.9 inches)
Mass: 320 milligrams (0.01 ounces)
Speed: 13.9 body lengths (about 1 foot) per second
Gaits achieved: 4 (trot, pronk, bound and jump)

The engineer has big plans for little robots like it. One day, Jayaram said, machines the size of HAMR-Jr could crawl into airplane engines or other spaces where mechanics can’t reach to conduct needed inspections. They might even perform surgeries on human patients.“I want to build robots that can get out of the lab and run around like bugs,” he said.

Jayaram will present his group’s results virtually today at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA 2020). 

The misunderstood cockroach

For the engineer, who joined CU Boulder this year, the project is the latest in a long…

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