Engineers from Northwestern University have created the smallest ever remote-controlled robot that has the ability of locomotion. This robot takes the shape of a very small and cute peekytoe crab.
The small crabs are about 0.5 millimeters in width and can walk, crawl, turn, bend, twist, and even leap. The scientists made robots that are a millimeter in size and are similar in shape to inchworms, crickets, and beetles. The researchers aim to move the field closer to developing the smallest robots that have the potential to cope with useful tasks in small and cramped spaces.
The journal of Science Robotics published this study. In September of last year, the same team also introduced a winged microprocessor, which was the smallest ever flying object created by man. This product was published on the cover of Nature.
We might imagine micro-robots as surgical assistants to unclog clogged arteries, to cause internal bleeding to stop, to eradicate cancerous tumors, or as agents to repair or assemble machines in the industry.
Yonggang Huang, leader of the theoretical work, said that their technology enabled a variety of controlled motion modalities and could walk with an average speed of half its body per second. This is too challenging for terrestrial robots to achieve at such small scales.
Instead of being propelled by sophisticated machinery, its body’s elastic resilience is where the crab’s power rests. The robot is built of a shape-memory alloy material. This robot, when heated, transforms into its remembered shape.
The scientists, at different targeted places all over its body, heated the robot instantly using a scanned laser beam. Upon cooling, a delicate coat of glass elastically rebuilds the deformed shape of the corresponding part of the structure.
Upon changing its shape from deformed to remembered shape and back again, the robot does locomotion. In addition to remotely controlling the robot to activate it, the laser scanning direction also decides the walking direction of the robot. For example, when one scans the robot from left to right, it moves from right to left.
The speed of cooling is fast because these structures are very small. The robots also run faster due to their tiny sizes.
In order to such a small critter, Huang and his partner Rogers turned to a technique they introduced 8 years ago: a popup assembly method inspired by a child’s pop up book.
The small robotic crab is an incredible product that can walk, bend, twist, turn and even jump. These tiny robots are very useful and can be used in the future to accomplish narrow and complicated tasks.
With these techniques and innovative concepts, scientists can create Walking robots of any size or 3D shape.
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