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Engineers Create Tiny Robot

Just a half-millimeter wide, the tiny crabs can bend, twist, crawl, walk, turn and even jump. The researchers also developed millimeter-sized robots resembling inchworms, crickets and beetles. Although the research is exploratory at this point, the researchers believe their technology might bring the field closer to realizing micro-sized robots that can perform practical tasks inside tightly confined spaces.

Engineers create tiny robot

The engineers had to develop new production techniques to create the microtubes. They had to figure out how to peel the microtubes off a production template. And they had to use computer modeling to find a way to create more coiling.

Jaeyoun (Jay) Kim and his research group have developed microrobotic tentacles that can be the hands and fingers of small robots designed to safely handle delicate objects. The engineers describe their micro-tentacles in the journal Scientific Reports.

As the robot changes from one phase to another -- deformed to remembered shape and back again -- it creates locomotion. Not only does the laser remotely control the robot to activate it, the laser scanning direction also determines the robot's walking direction. Scanning from left to right, for example, causes the robot to move from right to left.

"With these assembly techniques and materials concepts, we can build walking robots with almost any sizes or 3D shapes," Rogers said. "But the students felt inspired and amused by the sideways crawling motions of tiny crabs. It was a creative whim."

"Because these structures are so tiny, the rate of cooling is very fast. In fact, reducing the sizes of these robots allows them to run faster," explained Professor John Rogers, who led the experimental research.

Weighing in at just 80 milligrams, the tiny drone cannot carry its own power source, so has to stay tethered to the ground. It also relies on a computer to monitor its motion and adjust its attitude. Still, it is the first robot to deploy a fly's full range of aerial motion, including hovering.

The project introduces a novel non-invasive method of clot removal. The idea involves using a magnetic field to wirelessly steer tiny (6 millimeters long with a diameter of 2.5 mm), corkscrew-shaped robots through large arteries to break up blood clots in patients.

Engineering researchers from the University of Toronto have developed a tiny robot that can move similar to an inchworm. This newly developed technology can impact various industries including aviation and smart technology.

Professor Naguib and the team of engineers are using this new technology in robotics, and they are developing soft robots that are able to crawl and curl like an inchworm. Another area where they will be important is in the manufacturing industry. The soft robots could replace certain metal-plated bots that exist now.

Insect-sized flying robots could help with time-consuming tasks like surveying crop growth on large farms or sniffing out gas leaks. These robots soar by fluttering tiny wings because they are too small to use propellers, like those seen on their larger drone cousins. Small size is advantageous: These robots are cheap to make and can easily slip into tight places that are inaccessible to big drones.

When you connected the motor and battery wires, you created a closed circuit. This causes electricity to flow through the motor. The motor is the same type found in cell phones and video game controllers to make them vibrate. The electricity makes a tiny weight inside the motor spin, which causes the entire robot to wobble. This makes the bristlebot buzz around the table.

Interesting Engineering caught up with co-author John Rogers. The robotic engineer is professor of Materials Science and Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, and Neurological Surgery at Northwestern University, a recipient of the MacArthur genius grant," and a member of the National Academy of Science and the National Academy of Engineering. He explained how the new invention works and why building tiny robots requires overcoming big problems.

But for some robotics engineers, like Jinxing Li, an assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Michigan State University, their interest in pursuing robotics is more philosophical, reflective and rooted in the natural world.

Not all robotics engineers have such a direct impact on the health and well-being of other humans, like Hood and Li do. Some are working behind-the-scenes to get autonomous vehicles on the road or helping develop humanoid robots that can mow our lawns. Others are designing robots that can grab a specific product from a warehouse shelf, or working on social robots that can interact with humans.

The Autonomous Insect Robotics Laboratory develops technology aimed at insect-sized robots to create tiny robots capable of sensing and performing in the world without a human operator.

Boeing Advanced Research Center pairs Boeing engineers with students and faculty to develop solutions for Boeing products in the areas of automation, robotics, composites and aircraft assembly.

Scientists have long sought to create microscopic robots invisible to the naked eye. However, powering the motions of such machines has proven difficult. Microscopic robots driven by heat do not work well because heat diffuses rapidly. Materials similar to organic muscle are difficult to integrate into robots because they are damaged by the standard chemicals used in microfabrication. And so on.

The new robots possess leg muscles composed of platinum strips just 7 nanometers thick. When the robots are submerged in water, electrically charged ions in the liquid attach to the strips, making them swell and flex. A tiny amount of electricity can drive the ions off the platinum, straightening the strips.

The bodies of the robots are as small as 40 microns long, with legs 30 microns in length when unfolded. In comparison, the single-celled microbes known as paramecia can range between 50 and 320 microns long. The researchers said that to the best of their knowledge, these are the first robots of such tiny size to use onboard electronics to drive their movements.

However, the zinc particles only light up in the presence of a very strong and high-frequency electric field. This electric field excites the electrons in the zinc particles, which then emit subatomic particles of light known as photons. The researchers use high voltage to create a strong electric field in the soft actuator, and then drive the robot at a high frequency, which enables the particles to light up brightly.

They also tweaked the fabrication process so the actuators could emit multicolored and patterned light. The researchers placed a tiny mask over the top layer, added zinc particles, then cured the actuator. They repeated this process three times with different masks and colored particles to create a light pattern that spelled M-I-T.

Inspired by the biology of a fly, with submillimeter-scale anatomy and two wafer-thin wings that flap almost invisibly, 120 times per second, this tiny robot has taken its first controlled flight. (Photo courtesy of Kevin Ma and Pakpong Chirarattananon.)

"Flies perform some of the most amazing aerobatics in nature using only tiny brains," notes coauthor Sawyer B. Fuller, a postdoctoral researcher on Wood's team who essentially studies how fruit flies cope with windy days. "Their capabilities exceed what we can do with our robot, so we would like to understand their biology better and apply it to our own work."

"This project provides a common motivation for scientists and engineers across the university to build smaller batteries, to design more efficient control systems, and to create stronger, more lightweight materials," says Wood. "You might not expect all of these people to work together: vision experts, biologists, materials scientists, electrical engineers. What do they have in common? Well, they all enjoy solving really hard problems."

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But as these inventions get smaller, the laws of motion that govern these machines are not very intuitive, so researchers are drawing inspiration from nature, says Brad Nelson, professor of robotics at ETH Zürich, Switzerland, who focuses on these tiny intelligent machines down to nanometres in size. 041b061a72


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