Scientists draw robot design inspiration from Mexican jumping beans

Scientists are leveraging Mexican jumping bean’s locomotion mechanisms to create algorithms for future robotics movements

Researchers are studying Mexican jumping beans for robot design inspiration. The Mexican jumping beans have traditionally been thought to move in random jumping motions.

Scientists are developing algorithms that mimic the bean’s behaviour which could be used for new robots. The aim is to finally program robots to move in a controlled direction aping the bean’s locomotive manners.

The project is the work of mechanical engineers at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. The team includes Daniel West, Ishan Lal, Michael Leamy, and David Hu. The study was published in . The Georgia Tech engineers built on previous studies on the beans that detailed their formation and movement.

The Mexican jumping beans are hollow seeds that carry moth larva. The larva creates silk threads to attach itself inside the seed pod and move in the inner surface to cause rolling or jumping movement. A 1980s study revealed that the movement of the beans peaked at 40 jumps per minute for several minutes at 45 °C (113 °F).

The mechanical engineers conducted further tests with the beans and the larva separately. The engineers were interested in the frequency of each kind of movement. From their results, an average 550 movements had 85 per cent of jumps, 14 per cent rolling and 1 per cent flipping. The scientists discovered that the bean’s ‘jump-and-roll’ motion is almost similar to the ‘run-and-tumble’ motion used by bacteria.

From the tabulations, the engineers created an algorithm that mimics the bean’s jumping behaviour and tried it on a wheeled robot. The engineers believe the technology could be handy in building future micro-robotics with low intelligence and minimal power needs.

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