A new “breed” of microrobots has been born. They measure 0.5 centimeters, have the shape of a crab and move controlled by a laser
They have been developed by engineers at Northwestern University in Evanston (Illinois) and are shaped like a crab. They are half a millimeter wide. Among their abilities: they can bend, twist, crawl, walk, spin, and even jump. They move at half the size of their body per second.
The researchers also developed millimeter-sized robots that resemble caterpillars, crickets, and beetles. To get an idea of their size, they fit through the eye of a needle.
The new “breed” of micro-sized robots will be able to perform practical tasks in confined spaces. The development has been published in the Science Robotic magazine.
Northwestern University has released a video showing it walking and the various shapes they have developed.
“Robotics is an exciting field of research, and microscale robot development is a fun topic for academic exploration,” John A. Rogers, who led the experimental work, said in a statement. “You can imagine microrobots as agents to repair or assemble small structures or machines in industry, or as surgical assistants to clear clogged arteries, stop internal bleeding, or remove cancerous tumors, all in minimally invasive procedures.”
“Our technology enables a variety of controlled movement modalities and it can walk with an average speed of half its body length per second,” added Yonggang Huang, who led the theoretical work. “This is very difficult to achieve at such small scales for ground robots.”
They “remote” it with a laser
Smaller than a flea, the crab is not powered by complex hardware, hydraulic or electrical. Instead, his power lies in the elastic resilience of his body.
To build the robot, the researchers used a memory alloy material, a rubbery material coated with glass so that it transforms to its “remembered” shape when heated. To move it, the researchers used a scanned laser beam to rapidly heat the robot at different specific locations on its body. A thin layer of glass elastically returns the corresponding part of the structure to its deformed shape on cooling.
As the robot transitions from one phase to another, it deforms to the remembered shape and vice versa, creating locomotion. The laser not only remotely controls the robot to activate it, but the laser’s scanning direction also determines the robot’s running direction. Scanning from left to right, for example, makes the robot move from right to left.