This might be the smallest robot you've ever seen. It is half a millimeter wide and shaped like a pointed crab. It can crawl, jump and twist through microscopic openings. The edge of a coin gives it a large enough terrain to roam. This prototype microrobot is the world's smallest remote-controlled walking robot, bringing the field of robotics one step closer to completing practical tasks in small places, such as fixing small machines.
In a press release, Yonggang Huang, the project's principal theoretical researcher, explains:
“Our technology allows for a range of controlled movement modalities and can walk at half the average body length per second. This is extremely difficult for terrestrial robots to achieve at such small sizes.”
Engineers at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, published their findings May 25 in the journal Science Robotics.
The movement of the micro robot is controlled by its elastic body. Unlike many other robots, this crab's mobility is not supported by complex hardware or electrical components. It consists of a flexible alloy that retains its shape.
The alloy is compressed into a slightly distorted shape by a thin layer of glass. According to the team's news release, when researchers focus a scanning laser beam on different spots on the crab's body, these parts heat up and transform into previously deformed shapes. The alloy returns to its warped shape as hot areas cool.
The alloy rapidly changes shape during this process, causing the little crab to travel from one place to another. In fact, the laser acts as a remote control device, activating the crab and even commanding it to go in a certain direction.
Researchers can control the direction of the laser current because they use a scanning laser, which is a laser beam that can be directed to create a specific path along a surface (similar to those used to create a 3D map of uneven terrain).
For example, if the laser scans from left to right, the crab moves from right to left. Because this crab is so small, it can heat up and cool down faster than a larger robot, allowing it to go faster.
The architects of this work were inspired by a child's pop-up book he developed eight years ago. They started by gluing pre-made flat shapes onto a slightly stretched rubber substrate. The stretched substrate bends in a controlled manner as it relaxes, causing a pop-up motion. In this case, the prefabricated crab-shaped structures caused the substrate to expand into a three-dimensional crab shape.
The researchers chose the peekytoe crab design to enjoy watching a tiny robot wriggle like a crab. However, according to the researchers, XNUMXD printing technology can be used to reproduce any type or shape. During this research, they also created worms, crickets, and millimeter-sized robots that resemble insects.
If microrobots this small can be further developed to handle more complex tasks, the team is excited to see how the robotics field will progress.
In the news release, Rogers said, “You can think of small robots as agents for repairing or assembling small structures or machines in industry, or as surgical aids to clear clogged arteries, stop internal bleeding or destroy cancerous tumors. minimally invasive operations.”
The research team also built the world's smallest man-made flying structure, a winged microprocessor, in 2021.
Source: Popular Mechanics