What walks like a crab, is as small as a flea and can be remote-controlled? The latest gee-whiz wireless gizmo designed by robotics engineers.
The walking robot, created to look like a peekytoe crab, is the smallest-ever remote-controlled walking robot, engineers at Northwestern University said. The millimeter-sized robot is revealed in the May 25 issue of the peer-reviewed journal Science Robotics.
Research is experimental now, but the tiny crab robots – they can be made to crawl, twist, bend, turn and jump – could eventually lead to even smaller robots capable of repairs and other work.
“You might imagine micro-robots as agents to repair or assemble small structures or machines in industry or as surgical assistants to clear clogged arteries, to stop internal bleeding or to eliminate cancerous tumors – all in minimally invasive procedures,” said John Rogers, a bioelectronics scientist who led the work, in a press release about the development.
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The micro-robot crab moves because its body, made of a super-thin material that includes silicon and is elastic, is designed to change its shape when zapped with a laser beam. As a specific spot on the robot is heated by the laser, and subsequently cools, its body part changes and returns to its original state, causing it to move.
Scientists built the micro-robots using a 3-D pop-up book manufacturing method they developed eight years ago.
Yonggang Huang, an engineering professor who led the theoretical work on the research then and now, said in a statement that the technology “can walk with an average speed of half its body length per second.” .
“This is very challenging to achieve at such small scales for terrestrial robots,” he added.
Those two projects aren’t the only microscale developments they have researched. Last year, the Northwestern engineers designed flying microchips, the smallest-ever human-made flying structure.
The researchers have also developed millimeter-sized robots in the shape of inchworms, crickets and beetles.
“With these assembly techniques and materials concepts, we can build walking robots with almost any sizes or 3D shapes,” Rogers said.
Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @mikesnider.