Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Dartmouth researchers build world’s smallest mobile robot


In a world where "supersize" has entered the lexicon, there are some things getting smaller, like cell phones and laptops. Dartmouth researchers have contributed to the miniaturizing trend by creating the world’s smallest untethered, controllable robot. Their extremely tiny machine is about as wide as a strand of human hair, and half the length of the period at the end of this sentence. About 200 of these could march in a line across the top of a plain M&M. View images of the microrobot:

The researchers, led by Bruce Donald, the Joan P. and Edward J. Foley Jr. 1933 Professor of Computer Science at Dartmouth, report their creation in a paper that will be presented at the 12th International Symposium of Robotics Research in October in San Francisco, which is sponsored by the International Federation of Robotics Research. A longer, more detailed paper about this microrobot will also appear in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Microelectromechanical Systems, a publication of the IEEE, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

"It’s tens of times smaller in length, and thousands of times smaller in mass than previous untethered microrobots that are controllable," says Donald. "When we say ’controllable,’ it means it’s like a car; you can steer it anywhere on a flat surface, and drive it wherever you want to go. It doesn’t drive on wheels, but crawls like a silicon inchworm, making tens of thousands of 10-nanometer steps every second. It turns by putting a silicon ’foot’ out and pivoting like a motorcyclist skidding around a tight turn."

The future applications for micro-electromechanical systems, or MEMS, include ensuring information security, such as assisting with network authentication and authorization; inspecting and making repairs to an integrated circuit; exploring hazardous environments, perhaps after a hazardous chemical explosion; or involving biotechnology, say to manipulate cells or tissues.

Donald worked with Christopher Levey, Assistant Professor of Engineering and the Director of the Microengineering Laboratory at Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering, Dartmouth Ph.D. students Craig McGray and Igor Paprotny, and Daniela Rus, Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Their paper describes a machine that measures 60 micrometers by 250 micrometers (one micrometer is one thousandth of a millimeter). It integrates power delivery, locomotion, communication, and a controllable steering system - the combination of which has never been achieved before in a machine this small. Donald explains that this discovery ushers in a new generation of even tinier microrobots.

McGray, who earned a Ph.D. in Computer Science working on this project in Donald’s lab, adds, "Machines this small tend to stick to everything they touch, the way the sand sticks to your feet after a day at the beach. So we built these microrobots without any wheels or hinged joints, which must slide smoothly on their bearings. Instead, these robots move by bending their bodies like caterpillars. At very small scales, this machine is surprisingly fast." McGray is currently a researcher at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Md.

The prototype is steerable and untethered, meaning that it can move freely on a surface without the wires or rails that constrained the motion of previously developed microrobots. Donald explains that this is the smallest robot that transduces force, is untethered, and is engaged in its own locomotion. The robot contains two independent microactuators, one for forward motion and one for turning. It’s not pre-programmed to move; it is teleoperated, powered by the grid of electrodes it walks on. The charge in the electrodes not only provides power, it also supplies the robot’s instructions that allow it to move freely over the electrodes, unattached to them.

The work was funded in part by the Department of Homeland Security, Office of Domestic Preparedness through Dartmouth’s Institute for Security Technology Studies (ISTS).

Sue Knapp | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Listening to the Extragalactic Radio
13.10.2015 | Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie

nachricht Scientists paint quantum electronics with beams of light
12.10.2015 | University of Chicago

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Secure data transfer thanks to a single photon

Physicists of TU Berlin and mathematicians of MATHEON are so successful that even the prestigious journal “Nature Communications” reported on their project.

Security in data transfer is an important issue, and not only since the NSA scandal. Sometimes, however, the need for speed conflicts to a certain degree with...

Im Focus: A Light Touch May Help Animals and Robots Move on Sand and Snow

Having a light touch can make a hefty difference in how well animals and robots move across challenging granular surfaces such as snow, sand and leaf litter. Research reported October 9 in the journal Bioinspiration & Biomimetics shows how the design of appendages – whether legs or wheels – affects the ability of both robots and animals to cross weak and flowing surfaces.

Using an air fluidized bed trackway filled with poppy seeds or glass spheres, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology systematically varied the...

Im Focus: Reliable in-line inspections of high-strength automotive body parts within seconds

Nondestructive material testing (NDT) is a fast and effective way to analyze the quality of a product during the manufacturing process. Because defective materials can lead to malfunctioning finished products, NDT is an essential quality assurance measure, especially in the manufacture of safety-critical components such as automotive B-pillars. NDT examines the quality without damaging the component or modifying the surface of the material. At this year's Blechexpo trade fair in Stuttgart, Fraunhofer IZFP will have an exhibit that demonstrates the nondestructive testing of high-strength automotive body parts using 3MA. The measurement results are available in a matter of seconds.

To minimize vehicle weight and fuel consumption while providing the highest level of crash safety, automotive bodies are reinforced with elements made from...

Im Focus: Kick-off for a new era of precision astronomy

The MICADO camera, a first light instrument for the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), has entered a new phase in the project: by agreeing to a Memorandum of Understanding, the partners in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Austria, and Italy, have all confirmed their participation. Following this milestone, the project's transition into its preliminary design phase was approved at a kick-off meeting held in Vienna. Two weeks earlier, on September 18, the consortium and the European Southern Observatory (ESO), which is building the telescope, have signed the corresponding collaboration agreement.

As the first dedicated camera for the E-ELT, MICADO will equip the giant telescope with a capability for diffraction-limited imaging at near-infrared...

Im Focus: Locusts at the wheel: University of Graz investigates collision detector inspired by insect eyes

Self-driving cars will be on our streets in the foreseeable future. In Graz, research is currently dedicated to an innovative driver assistance system that takes over control if there is a danger of collision. It was nature that inspired Dr Manfred Hartbauer from the Institute of Zoology at the University of Graz: in dangerous traffic situations, migratory locusts react around ten times faster than humans. Working together with an interdisciplinary team, Hartbauer is investigating an affordable collision detector that is equipped with artificial locust eyes and can recognise potential crashes in time, during both day and night.

Inspired by insects

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

EHFG 2015: Securing healthcare and sustainably strengthening healthcare systems

01.10.2015 | Event News

Conference in Brussels: Tracking and Tracing the Smallest Marine Life Forms

30.09.2015 | Event News

World Alzheimer`s Day – Professor Willnow: Clearer Insights into the Development of the Disease

17.09.2015 | Event News

Latest News

Smart clothing, mini-eyes, and a virtual twin – Artificial Intelligence at ICT 2015

13.10.2015 | Trade Fair News

Listening to the Extragalactic Radio

13.10.2015 | Physics and Astronomy

Penn study stops vision loss in late-stage canine X-linked retinitis pigmentosa

13.10.2015 | Health and Medicine

More VideoLinks >>>