Although, at first glance, it could be misconstrued as a spider or a tiny crab, what engineers at US’s Northwestern University built was a half-millimeter-wide remote-controlled robot.
The tiny robot can bend, twist, crawl, walk, turn and jump without motors or electricity. The world’s most miniature remote-controlled robot is controlled using lasers.
It looks and moves like a miniature crab, a shape chosen on a “creative whim,” the researchers said, but the techniques they’ve developed can be used to create tiny robots in any form required.
“Our technology enables a variety of controlled motion modalities and can walk with an average speed of half its body length per second,” said mechanical engineer Yonggang Huang from Northwestern University in Illinois.
The technology was initially developed eight years ago, reported Science Alert. Its parts are fixed to a stretched rubber substrate, and when the material is relaxed, the robot pops into its shape.
Lasers are used as the remote control to heat particular parts of the robot. As those parts change their shape, they propel the crab forward. But, a thin glass layer ensures the components return to their original condition as they cool.
“Because these structures are so tiny, the rate of cooling is speedy,” said materials scientist John Rogers from Northwestern University, who led the experimental work. “Reducing the sizes of these robots allows them to run faster.”
Speaking about the use of such a tiny robot, he added, “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.”
The research was published in an article titled, Submillimeter-scale multimaterial terrestrial robots in Science Robotics.