the tethered RCE to travel at speeds of
3 mm/s—are patterned with 140-µm-
diameter, 70-µm-high pillars spaced
245 µm apart (to simulate microhairs
on the feet of insects) and fabricated
through micromolding using a template containing tens of thousands of
laser-drilled holes (see Fig. 4).
Into harm’s way
Much like the large robots that are sent
into harm’s way to detonate a bomb,
smaller-sized microrobots with a variety of sensing capabilities are being
developed to crawl, fly, or essentially
“swarm” in large numbers into a variety
of dangerous situations such as mining
disasters, earthquakes, and chemical
spills, or for applications in environmental sensing and industrial research.
Jasmine swarm robots (
www.swarmrobot.org) were originally developed
around 2005 on a roughly 3 cm3 platform by engineers at Karlsruhe Institute
of Technology (KIT; Karlsruhe,
Germany) and the University of
Stuttgart (Stuttgart, Germany). Since
then, Jasmine has been succeeded by
Wanda microrobots, and there is even
a 10X smaller I-SWARM robot (www.
i-swarm.org) that measures just 3 mm3
(see Fig. 5).
The goal of swarm robots, as summarized in the I-S WARM Sixth Framework
Programme project ( http://rob.ipr.kit.
edu/english/ 540_651.php) from which
I-SWARM originated, is to mass-produce microrobots that can be deployed
as a swarm consisting of up to 1000 robot clients equipped with limited onboard intelligence with different sensors,
manipulators, and computational power that could perform a variety of functions such as microassembly, biological,
medical, or cleaning tasks.
The Jasmine and I-SWARM micro-
robots are currently open-source plat-
forms; consequently, detailed schematics
of circuit-board design and mechanics
are available online. Though small in
size, these tiny microbots pack in a lot
of technology. For I-SWARM, commu-
nication between microbots is possible
at 1 bit/s at 10 mm distances using a sim-
ple LED/photodiode send/receive sensor;
locomotion is accomplished by a flexi-
ble printed circuit board with three legs
beneath a piezoelectric polymer actua-
tor multilayer film; a vibrating cantile-
ver sensor allows the microbot to sense
objects in its path; and swarm mathe-
matics and software are used to enable
“autonomous” robotic movement using
GPS or light-based signaling.
Unfortunately, there are more microrobotic laboratories doing inspiring work than I am able to cover in this
Laser Focus World feature. Be sure
to investigate Berkeley’s Biomimetic
Millisystems Lab and the University
of Maryland’s Micro Robotics Lab,
and don’t forget to view the images
and see the videos from the Harvard
Microrobotics Laboratory, which is developing biologically inspired, insect-scale crawling and flying robots (see
as RoboBees that incorporate micro-electromechanical systems for articulation and actuation and ambulatory
robots that resemble centipedes with
soft, artificial sensing skin. In the not-too-distant future, you might be swallowing a robotic capsule at your next
doctor’s appointment or calling in a
microrobotic swarm of bees to surreptitiously find out what your “remote”
employees are up to.
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