Is your tiny robot really that small if it is larger than the width of a coin? A team of scientists has built what is now the smallest remote-controlled walking robot ever, just half a millimeter wide (less than fifty inches) wide.
Ultra-tiny robots have many potential uses, from assisting with surgeries to repairing machines in keyless areas. The smaller they become, the more scenarios could be used.
This bot, although not yet ready to start going out into the world and doing repairs, is really impressive.
It looks and moves like a tiny crab, a shape chosen by a “creative whim,” according to the researchers. The techniques they have developed can actually be used to grow tiny robots in almost any shape required.
“Technology allows us to have a variety of controlled movements and can walk at average speed half its body length per second,” said Yonggang Huang, a mechanical engineer at Northwestern University in Illinois.
“This is very difficult to achieve on such a small scale for terrestrial robots.”
The technology on which the robot is based was first developed eight years ago and does not look like a pop-up book: the robot parts are fastened to a stretched elastic support and when the material relaxes, the device appears in its shape.
By carefully calibrating the base pieces, the shape of the robot can be precisely controlled. A similar approach is used with the moving parts of the robot, which are made of alloy material with shape memory. These materials change between two different shapes depending on whether they are heated or not.
The lasers, which act as a remote control, are used to heat specific parts of the robot – as these parts are transformed into different shapes, pushing the crab forward. There is no need for a power source or motor and a thin layer of glass ensures that the components return to their original shape as they cool.
“Because these structures are so tiny, the cooling rate is very fast,” says John Rogers, a materials scientist at Northwestern University. “In fact, reducing the size of these robots allows them to run faster.”
By targeting the lasers at different parts of the robo crab, researchers are able to determine the direction of motion. By adjusting the frequency of the laser scan, the speed of the robot can be modified.
This is the next step in a trend that has seen robots get smaller and smaller over time, either to become more resistant to external forces, to target drugs to treat disease, or to create larger, articulate structures. from smaller places.
Researchers say there are many possibilities in their new process: they can make robots turn and jump using the same techniques, for example. As long as the robot is in visual contact with the laser, it can operate remotely.
“Robotics is a fascinating field of research, and the development of microscale robots is a fun subject for academic exploration,” says Rogers.
“You can think of micro-robots as agents for repairing or assembling small structures or machines in industry, or as surgical assistants to clear clogged arteries, stop internal bleeding, or eliminate cancerous tumors – all in minimally invasive procedures.”
The research has been published in Science of Robotics.