Little Robot Crab is the smallest remote-controlled walking robot ever: the robot is smaller than a flea and can walk, bend, twist, turn and jump

Engineers at Northwestern University have developed the smallest remote-controlled walking robot ever — and it’s shaped like a tiny, adorable peekytoe crab.

The tiny crabs are only half a millimeter wide and can bend, twist, crawl, walk, twist and even jump. The researchers also developed millimeter-sized robots that resemble inchworms, crickets and beetles. While the research is exploratory at this point, the researchers believe their technology could bring the field closer to realizing micro-robots that can perform practical tasks in tight spaces.

The study will be published Wednesday (May 25) in the journal Science Robotics† Last September, the same team introduced a winged microchip that was the smallest human-made flying structure ever.

“Robotics is an exciting area of ​​research, and the development of micro-scale robots is an exciting topic for academic exploration,” said John A. Rogers, who led the experimental work. “You could envision microrobots as agents to repair or assemble small structures or machinery in industry or as surgical assistants to clear clogged arteries, stop internal bleeding or eliminate cancerous tumors — all in minimally invasive procedures.”

“Our technology allows for a variety of controlled movement modalities and can walk at an average speed of half its body length per second,” added Yonggang Huang, who led the theoretical work. “This is quite a challenge to achieve on such a small scale for terrestrial robots.”

A pioneer of bioelectronics, Rogers is the Louis Simpson and Kimberly Querrey Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, Biomedical Engineering and Neurological Surgery at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering and Feinberg School of Medicine and the director of the Querrey Simpson Institute for Bioelectronics (QSIB). Huang is the Jan and Marcia Achenbach Professor of Mechanical and Civil and Environmental Engineering at McCormick and a key member of QSIB.

Smaller than a flea, the crab is not powered by complex hardware, hydraulics or electricity. Instead, its strength lies in its body’s elastic resilience. To build the robot, the researchers used a shape-memory alloy material that changes to its “remembered” shape when heated. In this case, the researchers used a scanned laser beam to quickly heat the robot in several targeted locations across its body. A thin layer of glass elastically returns that corresponding part of the structure to its deformed shape upon cooling.

As the robot moves from one phase to another – distorted to a remembered form and back again – locomotion is created. Not only does the laser remotely operate the robot to activate it, the laser scanning direction also determines the robot’s walking direction. For example, by scanning from left to right, the robot moves from right to left.

“Because these structures are so small, the rate of cooling is very fast,” explains Rogers. “Reducing the size of these robots allows them to run even faster.”

To create such a tiny critter, Rogers and Huang turned to a technique they introduced eight years ago: a pop-up montage method inspired by a pop-up book for children.

First, the team fabricated precursors to the walking crab structures in flat, planar geometries. They then tied these precursors to a slightly stretched rubber base. When the stretched substrate is relaxed, a controlled buckling process occurs that causes the crab to “pop up” in precisely defined three-dimensional shapes.

This production method allowed the Northwestern team to develop robots of various shapes and sizes. So why a peekaboo crab? We can thank Rogers and Huang’s students for that.

“With these assembly techniques and material concepts, we can build walking robots with almost any size or 3D shape,” Rogers said. “But the students were inspired and amused by the side crawling movements of small crabs. It was a creative whim.”

Video: https://youtu.be/1IP7jptXjgQ

Story source:

materials supplied by Northwestern University† Originally written by Amanda Morris. Note: Content is editable for style and length.

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