Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

In new mass-production technique, robotic insects spring to life

16.02.2012
Production method inspired by children's pop-up books enables rapid fabrication of tiny, complex devices
A new technique inspired by elegant pop-up books and origami will soon allow clones of robotic insects to be mass-produced by the sheet.

Devised by engineers at Harvard, the ingenious layering and folding process enables the rapid fabrication of not just microrobots, but a broad range of electromechanical devices.

In prototypes, 18 layers of carbon fiber, Kapton (a plastic film), titanium, brass, ceramic, and adhesive sheets have been laminated together in a complex, laser-cut design. The structure incorporates flexible hinges that allow the three-dimensional product—just 2.4 millimeters tall—to assemble in one movement, like a pop-up book.
The entire product is approximately the size of a U.S. quarter, and dozens of these microrobots could be fabricated in parallel on a single sheet.

"This takes what is a craft, an artisanal process, and transforms it for automated mass production," says Pratheev Sreetharan (A.B. '06, S.M. '10), who co-developed the technique with J. Peter Whitney. Both are doctoral candidates at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).

Sreetharan, Whitney, and their colleagues in the Harvard Microrobotics Laboratory at SEAS have been working for years to build bio-inspired, bee-sized robots that can fly and behave autonomously as a colony. Appropriate materials, hardware, control systems, and fabrication techniques did not exist prior to the RoboBees project, so each must be invented, developed, and integrated by a diverse team of researchers.

Less than a year ago, the group was using a painstaking and error-prone method to fold, align, and secure each of the minuscule parts and joints.

"You'd take a very fine tungsten wire and dip it in a little bit of superglue," explains Sreetharan. "Then, with that tiny ball of glue, you'd go in under a microscope like an arthroscopic surgeon and try to stick it in the right place."

"Until recently, the manual assembly process was the state of the art in this field," Sreetharan adds.

The same result can now be achieved—without human error—through locking mechanisms and dip soldering. The new process also enables the use of cured carbon fiber, which is rigid and easy to align, rather than uncured carbon fiber, which Sreetharan compares to "wet tissue paper."

"Our new techniques allow us to use any material including polymers, metals, ceramics, and composites," says principal investigator Rob Wood, an Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering at SEAS and a Core Faculty Member at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard.

"The ability to incorporate any type and number of material layers, along with integrated electronics, means that we can generate full systems in any three-dimensional shape," Wood says. "We've also demonstrated that we can create self-assembling devices by including pre-stressed materials."

The implications of this novel fabrication strategy go far beyond these micro-air vehicles. The same mass-production technique could be used for high-power switching, optical systems, and other tightly integrated electromechanical devices that have parts on the scale of micrometers to centimeters.

Moreover, the layering process builds on the manufacturing process currently used to make printed circuit boards, which means that the tools for creating large sheets of pop-up devices are common and abundant. It also means that the integration of electrical components is a natural extension of the fabrication process—particularly important for the size- and weight-constrained RoboBees project.

"In a larger device, you can take a robot leg, for example, open it up, and just bolt in circuit boards. We're so small that we don't get to do that. I can't put a structural mechanism in here and have it serve no electrical function."

Pointing to the carbon-fiber box truss that constitutes the pop-up bee's body frame, Sreetharan says, "Now, I can put chips all over that. I can build in sensors and control actuators."
Essentially, tiny robots can now be built by slightly bigger robots. Designing how all of the layers will fit together and fold, however, is still a very human task, requiring creativity and expertise. Standard computer-aided design (CAD) tools, typically intended for either flat, layered circuit boards or 3D objects, do not yet support devices that combine both.

Once the design is complete, though, fabrication can be fully automated, with accuracy and precision limited only by the machining tools and materials.

"The alignment is now better than we can currently measure," says Sreetharan. "I've verified it to better than 5 microns everywhere, and we've gone from a 15% yield to—well, I don't think I've ever had a failure."

The full fabrication process will be described in the March issue of the Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering. Co-authors and collaborators, beside Whitney, Sreetharan, and Wood, include Kevin Ma, a graduate student at SEAS; and Marc Strauss, a research assistant in Wood's lab.

The Harvard Office of Technology Development is now developing a strategy to commercialize this technology. As part of this effort, they have filed patent applications on this work and are engaging with entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and companies to identify disruptive applications in a range of industries.

The work was supported by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, the National Science Foundation (through the Expeditions in Computing program), and the Wyss Institute.

CONTACT: Caroline Perry, (617) 496-1351

Caroline Perry | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.seas.harvard.edu/news-events/press-releases/pop-up-flying-robots

More articles from Interdisciplinary Research:

nachricht Bergamotene - alluring and lethal for Manduca sexta
21.04.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für chemische Ökologie

nachricht How to color a lizard: From biology to mathematics
13.04.2017 | Université de Genève

All articles from Interdisciplinary Research >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

New 3-D model predicts best planting practices for farmers

26.06.2017 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

New research reveals impact of seismic surveys on zooplankton

26.06.2017 | Life Sciences

Correct connections are crucial

26.06.2017 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>