University of Washington's Microrobot Shows Off Latest Improvements

University of Washington Microrobot
John Suh, Stanford University Tiny, four-sided cilia, pulsating structures that

This 1mm tall robot is ultralight, thermal powered and the latest design from the Karl F. Böhringer, MEMS Laboratory at the University of Washington. Referred to as "Insect like" this free moving omnidirectional rectangle is capable of carrying impressive loads of up to 7 times its own weight. In the official press release they talk of a microrobot competition, and made sure to mention that this design could shed maybe 90% of its weight to accommodate a different purpose.

From the University of Washington Press Release
Someday, tiny mobile devices could crawl through cracks to explore collapsed structures, collect environmental samples or do other tasks where small size is a benefit. The UW's robot weighs half a gram (roughly one-hundredth of an ounce), measures about 1 inch long by a third of an inch wide, and is about the thickness of a fingernail.

Technically it is a centipede, with 512 feet arranged in 128 sets of four. Each foot consists of an electrical wire sandwiched between two different materials, one of which expands under heat more than the other. A current traveling through the wire heats the two materials and one side expands, making the foot curl. Rows of feet shuffle along in this way at 20 to 30 times each second.

"The response time is an interesting point about these tiny devices," Böhringer said. "On your stove, it might take minutes or even tens of minutes to heat something up. But on the small scale it happens much, much faster."

The legs' surface area is so large compared to their volume that they can heat up or cool down in just 20 milliseconds.

"It's one of the strongest actuators that you can get at the small scale, and it has one of the largest ranges of motion," Böhringer said. "That's difficult to achieve at the small scale."

Journal of Microelectromechanical Systems Abstract: Thermally Actuated Omnidirectional Walking Microrobot

For more inspiration take a look at this video of this spec of a magnetic microrobot maneuvering around the face of a dime with ease from the NanoRobotics Lab at Carnegie Melon.

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