Northwestern engineers have built the world’s smallest remote-controlled walking robot, and it comes in the shape of a charming little crab. These tiny crabs, just half a millimeter long, can bend, roll, crawl, walk, twist and even jump. The researchers have also created millimeter-sized robots that look like roundworms, crickets, and beetles. Although the research is still in its early stages, the researchers hope their technology will help them move closer to developing small-scale robots that can perform practical functions in limited locations.
The crab, which is about the size of a flea, is not propelled by complex machinery, hydraulics or electricity. Instead, its strength comes from the flexibility and resilience of the body.
To build the robot, the researchers used a shape memory alloy material that transforms into the retrieved shape when heated. The team used a scanning laser beam to rapidly heat the robot at various specific points across its body in this case. Upon cooling, a thin layer of glass returns the deformed component of the structure to its original shape.
The results of the study were published in the journal Science Robotics.
John A Rogers, who led the experimental work, was quoted as saying: “Robots is an exciting field of research, and the development of micro-robots is an interesting topic for academic exploration. You might imagine micro-robots as agents for repairing or assembling structures or small machines in industry or as surgical aids to clear blocked arteries, or to stop Internal bleeding or eliminating cancerous tumors – all in minimally invasive procedures.
Our technology enables a variety of controlled movement techniques and can walk at an average speed of half her body length per second. Yonggang Huang who led the theoretical work added:
Motion is generated when the robot moves from one stage to the next: from the distorted shape to the recovered shape and back again. The laser not only activates the robot remotely, but also the scanning direction of the laser determines its direction of travel.
First of all, the team created the flat and flat ancestors of the moving crab constructs. The precursor was then attached to a somewhat stretched rubber substrate. The controlled flexion process occurs when the stretched substrate is loosened, causing the crabs to appear in precisely defined three-dimensional formations.
Last September, the same group unveiled the world’s smallest man-made flying structure, a winged microprocessor.
The Northwestern team can create robots of all shapes and sizes using this manufacturing approach.