Researchers build world's smallest remote-controlled walking robot

Shawn Knight

Posts: 14,237   +158
Staff member
What just happened? Researchers from Northwestern University have created the world's smallest remote-controlled walking robot. Modeled after a peekytoe crab, it measures just half a millimeter wide and can fit comfortably on the edge of a penny.

The tiny bot is able to walk, crawl, bend, twist and even jump. According to lead researcher Yonggang Huang, it can walk at an average speed of half its body length per second.

How it moves is arguably the most fascinating aspect of the robot. Instead of relying on tiny electronics, researchers utilized a shape-memory alloy material that changes shape when heated. Using a precision laser, they are able to rapidly heat specific parts of the bot to make it change shape. A thin glass coating helps cool the pieces and allow them to pop back into their original shape.

Rinse and repeat and boom, you've got a remote-controlled robot that can move without any hydraulics or electricity.

"Because these structures are so tiny, the rate of cooling is very fast," said John Rogers, a materials scientist at Northwestern University. The scientist added that reducing the size of the robots actually allows them to move faster.

As for potential use cases, there are plenty.

"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," Rogers said.

The work is currently in the experimental phase but that is likely to change as further advancements are made. The researchers have published their findings in the journal Science Robotics.

Permalink to story.

 
D

Dd663

LASER-CONTROLLED ROBO-SPIDERS. NO THANKS.

But being serious, the mechanism of control seems... inconvenient, to say the least. Being heated by super-precise lasers? Cool and all (no pun intended), but imposes some significant limitations, among them being the requirement for line-of-sight and needing an expensive laser machine or whatever they use. Certainly it wouldn't be able to do any of the things mentioned in the quote below if it needs line-of-sight:

"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," Rogers said.
 

red1776

Posts: 5,124   +194
But being serious, the mechanism of control seems... inconvenient, to say the least. Being heated by super-precise lasers? Cool and all (no pun intended),

None noticed.
next.
 

Sir Sparkles

Posts: 110   +61
Heating stuff up and getting it to expand then contract isn't exactly high tech.
Micro robot races would be cool though.
 

TheRealSCDC

Posts: 222   +302
This seems like something for a bored kid with a laser pointer. Soon to be sold with a big banner “AS SEEN ON TV” on the box.
 
D

Dd663

But being serious, the mechanism of control seems... inconvenient, to say the least. Being heated by super-precise lasers? Cool and all (no pun intended),

None noticed.
next.
(emphasis added)

Also:
A thin glass coating helps cool the pieces and allow them to pop back into their original shape.

This seems like something for a bored kid with a laser pointer. Soon to be sold with a big banner “AS SEEN ON TV” on the box.
Unfortunately, the precision lasers needed for this are well beyond the capabilities of a kid with a laser pointer or even said laser pointer itself. Cue someone telling me off for being too literal?

Heating stuff up and getting it to expand then contract isn't exactly high tech.
Micro robot races would be cool though.
Now this I actually want to see. Also, the targeting system used for the lasers could presumably be considered high-tech.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

Uncle Al

Posts: 8,932   +7,898
I want one with a little laser gun so it can crawl all over my cat and hunt down flea's! But it better have great aim, the old cat is not tolerant of unprovoked pain at all!!!
 
D

Dd663

How short sighted are you? That's exactly what the said for the first computer, which was the size of a room.
Again, the line-of-sight constraint on these makes them impossible to use for most tasks they might theoretically be useful for, regardless of how much they refine the locomotion capabilities.

AFAIK, there wasn't anything fundamentally limiting about the first computers other than their size. And I don't think many people were trying to claim that they were useless. I'm pretty sure they were recognized for the incredible potential they had.
 

netman

Posts: 798   +350
"The tiny bot is able to walk, crawl, bend, twist and even jump"

No Flying...?! That's the deal breaker...!
 

Mugsy

Posts: 765   +201
We are getting every closer to a real life "Fantastic Voyage", but with miniature robots instead of people.

The potential surgical advancements are mind-blowing.