Latch-Based Control of Energy Output in Spring Actuated Systems

Sathvik Divi, Xiaotian Ma, Mark Ilton, Ryan St. Pierre, Babak Eslami, S. N. Patek, and Sarah Bergbreiter

Journal of the Royal Society Interface 17 (2020) 20200070


The inherent force–velocity trade-off of muscles and motors can be overcome by instead loading and releasing energy in springs to power extreme movements. A key component of this paradigm is the latch that mediates the release of spring energy to power the motion. Latches have traditionally been considered as switches; they maintain spring compression in one state and allow the spring to release energy without constraint in the other. Using a mathematical model of a simplified contact latch, we reproduce this instantaneous release behaviour and also demonstrate that changing latch parameters (latch release velocity and radius) can reduce and delay the energy released by the spring. We identify a critical threshold between instantaneous and delayed release that depends on the latch, spring, and mass of the system. Systems with stiff springs and small mass can attain a wide range of output performance, including instantaneous behaviour, by changing latch release velocity. We validate this model in both a physical experiment as well as with data from the Dracula ant, Mystrium camillae, and propose that latch release velocity can be used in both engineering and biological systems to control energy output.