Micro-Robots: Miniaturized Mighty Mobile Machines

Micro-robots are designed to perform specific tasks and these tiny mobile devices dare to go where larger machines cannot fit, much less dare not tread. In the June 2010 issue of Microelectromechanical Systems, a man named Karl Bohringer has introduced a micro-robot that is insect-size with hundreds of tiny legs. This alone transforms that proverbial fly on the wall many (actually hundreds) of steps forward.

Tiny robotic cars have already been unleashed onto a fascinated public who although they might have needed magnifying glasses to follow the action, nevertheless watched the 100-mile driver-less race across the desert with rapt attention. Sponsored by the United States government, the tiny winner received a big purse of one million dollars.

According to Bohringer, a University of Washington professor of electrical engineering:

“I’d like to see a similar competition at the small scale, where we dump these micro-robots from a plane and have them go off and run for days and just do what they’ve been told. That would require quite an effort at this point, but I think it would be a great thing.”

Small robots can perform a unique roster of tasks that make them as indispensable as any one thing in this disposable society can be. For example, maybe someday these tiny bots could crawl through the cracks of collapsing structures and secretly record and gather sensitive information. The possibilities are endless.

Developed by researchers at the University of Washington and Stanford University, this new micro-robot is exciting because it is like an ant; it excels in its ability to carry heavy loads, (more than seven times its own weight, in fact) and it can move in any direction.

The insect cyborg weighs roughly one hundredth of an ounce and measures one inch long by a third of an inch wide. It is about as thick as a human fingernail. Technically categorized as a centipede, its total of 512 feet are arranged in 128 sets of four (Can you imagine how much it would cost if you had to buy shoes for such a creature?) The feet move and curl via a heated electrical current that travels through a wire.

First built in the mid 1990s at Stanford University as a prototype part for a paper-thin scanner or printer, it was later adapted as a docking system for space satellites. Now scientists have morphed it once again, so that the structures that acted like moving cilia are on the bottom, turning the microchip into an insect-like robot. The major challenge is the power supply, and at present the battery will only permit the robot to operate for about ten minutes.

Still, the future looks bright for this tiny contender and its place in the world of subversive devices.

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