Agile MEMS robots 100 times smaller than previous robotic designs

Duke university makes new MEMS (microelectromechanical system) based robots. Each microrobot is shaped something like a spatula but with dimensions measuring just microns, or millionths of a meter. They are almost 100 times smaller than any previous robotic designs of their kind and weigh even less. The devices are about 60 microns wide, 250 microns long and 10 microns high that each run off power scavenged from an electrified surface. Propelling themselves across such surfaces in an inchworm-like fashion impelled by a “scratch-drive” motion actuator, the microrobots advance in steps only 10 to 20 billionths of a meter each, but repeated as often as 20,000 times a second.

Two microrobots can be seen pirouetting to the music of a Strauss waltz on a dance floor just 1 millimeter across. In another sequence, the devices pivot in a precise fashion whenever their boom-like steering arms are drawn down to the surface by an electric charge. This response resembles the way dirt bikers turn by extending a boot heel.

New research summaries describe the group’s latest accomplishment: getting five of the devices to group-maneuver in cooperation under the same control system.

“Our work constitutes the first implementation of an untethered, multi-microrobotic system”

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