Engineers from the US’s Northwestern University have devised a half-millimetre-wide robot crab that is the smallest-ever remote walkable device.
A feat that has to be seen to be believed. Crab walking into the history books, the crab can twist, crawl and jump, all without hydraulics or electricity — instead it uses a shape-memory alloy that uses heat to transform shape.
“Robotics is an exciting field of research, and the development of micro-scale robots is a fun topic for academic exploration,” said Northwestern bioelectronics engineer John A. Rogers, who led the experimental work.
The researchers apply a scanned laser beam to heat different parts of the robot’s body, which then return to their original shape as they cool thanks to a thin coating of glass. This process allows the robot to move and controls its direction. “Because these structures are so tiny, the rate of cooling is very fast,” explained Rogers. “In fact, reducing the sizes of these robots allows them to run faster.” The team creates such tiny structures by building them in two-dimensions, then opening them up like a pop-up book.
Smaller than a flea, the vision for the robot is to one day perform tasks inside tightly confined spaces, including the human body.
“You might imagine micro-robots as agents to repair or assemble small structures or machines in industry or as surgical assistants to clear clogged arteries, to stop internal bleeding or to eliminate cancerous tumors — all in minimally invasive procedures,” said Rogers.