Smaller than a chip, the robot can walk, bend, spin, turn and jump

Engineers at Northwestern University have developed the smallest remote-controlled walking robot in history – and it is presented in the form of a charming little spy crab.

With only half a millimeter wide, tiny crabs can bend, spin, crawl, walk, spin and even jump. Researchers have also developed millimeter robots that look like caterpillars, crickets and beetles. Although the research at this stage is research, researchers believe that their technology can bring this industry closer to creating microrobots that can perform practical tasks in confined spaces.

The study will be published on Wednesday, May 25 in the journal Scientific robotics. Last September, the same team demonstrated a winged microchip that was the smallest flying structure ever created by man.

“Robotics is an exciting field of research, and the development of microrobots is an interesting topic for academic research,” said John A. Rogers, who led the experimental work. “You can think of microrobots as agents for repairing or assembling small structures or machines in industry, or as surgical assistants to clean clogged arteries, stop internal bleeding, or remove cancerous tumors — all with minimally invasive procedures. »

“Our technology allows us to use a variety of controlled methods of movement and can walk at an average speed of half the length of the body per second,” added Yonggang Huang, who led the theoretical work. “This is very difficult to achieve on such a small scale for ground robots. »

A pioneer in bioelectronics, Rogers holds the Chair of Louis Simpson and Kimberly Querrey in Materials Science and Engineering, Biomedical Engineering and Neurological Surgery at McCormick School of Engineering in Northwestern and Feinsobert Medical School and director of the Feinberg Qi Biot Institute. Huang is a professor of mechanical engineering and civil and environmental engineering at McCormick Jan and Marcia Achenbach and a key member of QSIB.

Smaller than a chip, the crab is not powered by complex equipment, hydraulics or electricity. Instead, his strength lies in the elasticity of his body. To create the robot, the researchers used an alloy with shape memory, which changes its “memory” shape when heated. In this case, the researchers used a scanned laser beam to quickly heat the robot at various target locations on his body. A thin layer of glass elastically returns to this corresponding part of the structure the deformed shape during cooling.

When a robot moves from one phase to another – it deforms to a memorized form and back – it creates movement. The laser not only remotely controls the robot to activate it, but the direction of the laser scan also determines the walking direction of the robot. For example, a swipe from left to right causes the robot to move from right to left.

“Because these structures are so tiny, the cooling rate is very fast,” Rogers explained. “In fact, reducing the size of these robots allows them to work faster. »

To create such a small creature, Rogers and Huang turned to a technique they introduced eight years ago, a method of assembling pop-up windows inspired by a children’s pop-up book.

First, the team made the predecessors of the designs of walking crabs in flat and flat geometry. They then glued these precursors to a slightly stretched rubber backing. When the stretched substrate is released, there is a controlled bending process, as a result of which the crab “jumps out” in well-defined three-dimensional shapes.

Thanks to this method of production, the Northwestern team was able to develop robots of various shapes and sizes. So why the spy crab? We can thank the students of Rogers and Huang for this.

“With these assembly methods and material concepts, we can create walking robots of virtually any size or 3D shape,” Rogers said. “But the students were inspired and amused by the side crawls of the little crabs. It was a creative whim. »


Source of history:

Materials provided Northwestern University. The original was written by Amanda Morris. Note. Content can be edited by style and length.

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