Ants go for the new 3D miniature force measurement platform used at the University of Jena

Ants are true giants when it comes down to carrying heavy loads. In laboratory tests, formica polyctena, a species of red wood ant, for example, are carrying almost forty times their own weight. However, measuring the ground reaction forces exerted by those lightweights with super-powers represents a major challenge. The forces exerted by ants in motion are almost impossible to measure using existing methods. Insights into insect locomotion provide valuable approaches for future applications in the field of safe handling of loads. For this reason, Lars Reinhardt and Prof. Dr. Reinhard Blickhan from the University of Jena, Germany, sought to find a remedy. They developed a robust miniature force measurement platform enabling forces in the micronewton range to be reliably measured - in all three relevant directions of motion. HBM made an important contribution to this: providing the MGCplus amplifier system and catman Easy test and measurement software.

Research in the field of insect locomotion provides important fundamentals for assessing mechanics, sensory physiology and motor skills. Real-life applications can be implemented based on these findings, for example in bionics and robotics. These include transportation and carrying devices with outstanding all-terrain characteristics imitating the stable gait of ants on six legs. However, reliable results from basic research are required for successfully imitating Mother Nature.

Scientists from the Friedrich Schiller University of Jena have taken a big step toward that goal. Lars Reinhardt and Prof. Dr. Reinhard Blickhan have developed a new 3D miniature force measurement platform for measuring ultra-small forces. It enables reliable measurement of ant locomotion in all three relevant directions of motion and subsequent analysis. The platform developed within the framework of a project funded by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), for the first time, allows insights into the dynamics of locomotion on legs in this ultra-miniature range.

Measurement platforms available to date only suitable to a limited extent

Miniature force measurement platforms for measuring ground reaction forces have been available for decades now. However, they only allowed measured values in two dimensions to be acquired. Or they were not sufficiently robust and not able to withstand the required number of measurement cycles for providing reliable research results. On the other hand, more robust versions of the 3D platforms, due to their design and the materials used, were not suitable for measuring ultra-small forces in the micronewton range. They were not able to measure the ground reaction forces generated by a wood ant weighing 23,2 mg and the dynamics of its locomotion.

Ants go for it: the robust miniature force measurement platform used at the University of Jena

At the Chair of Motion Science of the Friedrich Schiller University of Jena, Lars Reinhardt and Prof. Dr. Reinhard Blickhan developed a new measurement platform enabling reliable measurement of the ground reactions forces generated by an individual ant leg in motion, in all three directions of motion. The new 3D platform developed by the scientists from Jena is outstanding for its robust design, wide measuring range up to 4 mN and low level of crosstalk between the measurement channels. This has been proven in extensive test runs.

Reinhardt and Blickhan have been testing the reliability and durability of the new measurement platform for six months. The 3D miniature force measurement platform has easily tolerated 3,000 loadings with one leg exerted by wood ants of the species Formica polyctena moving on the platform. The platform has not shown any material defects or measurement uncertainties. Other advantages are the low production costs due to its design and the wide range of different applications going far beyond experiments with ants

HBM plays a leading role in calibration, measurement and analysis

The measurement platform developed by the motion scientists at the University of Jena is based on highly precise stereolithography technology. The prototype made of a material similar to polycarbonate (PC) is lightweight, highly elastic, well damped and fitted with customary semiconductor strain gauges. HBM provided the MGCplus digital amplifier system and catman Easy test and measurement software for measurement, data acquisition, visualization and analysis.

HBM's tried and tested MGCplus amplifier system was specifically designed for use in laboratories and test benches. Due to its modular design, the system can be adapted to new tasks and used in virtually all areas. It allows both static and dynamic measurements of force, weight, displacement, pressure, temperature, torque, acceleration, strain, mechanical stress or voltage, current, frequency, and resistance when high resolution, long-term stability and immunity to interference are paramount.

HBM's catman Easy measurement software is an ideal tool for measurement projects, for example, in combination with the MGCplus amplifier system. It is first choice for data acquisition, visualization and analysis of measurement data. In addition, perfect support of HBM amplifiers as well as intuitive handling and many customization options make catman the tool of choice.

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University of Jena

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