Researchers Hope to Mass-Produce Tiny Robots

Researchers Hope to Mass-Produce Robots on a ChipAn illustration of the I-SWARM robot: (1) solar cell, (2) IR-communication module, (3) an ASIC, (4) capacitors, (5) locomotion module. Image credit: Edqvist, et al.

(PhysOrg.com) -- Tiny robots the size of a flea could one day be mass-produced, churned out in swarms and programmed for a variety of applications, such as surveillance, micromanufacturing, medicine, cleaning, and more. In an effort to reach this goal, a recent study has demonstrated the initial tests for fabricating microrobots on a large scale.

The researchers, from institutes in Sweden, Spain, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland, explain that their building approach marks a new paradigm of robot development in microrobotics. The technique involves integrating an entire robot - with communication, locomotion, , and electronics - in different modules on a single circuit board. In the past, the single-chip robot concept has presented significant limitations in design and manufacturing. However, instead of using solder to mount electrical components on a printed circuit board as in the conventional method, the researchers use conductive adhesive to attach the components to a double-sided flexible printed circuit board using surface mount technology. The circuit board is then folded to create a three-dimensional robot.

The resulting robots are very small, with their length, width, and height each measuring less than 4 mm. The robots are powered by a solar cell on top, and move by three vibrating legs. A fourth vibrating leg is used as a touch sensor. As the researchers explain, a single microrobot by itself is a physically simple individual. But many robots communicating with each other using infrared sensors and interacting with their environment can form a group that is capable of establishing swarm intelligence to generate more complex behavior. The framework for this project, called I-SWARM (intelligent small-world autonomous robots for micro-manipulation) is inspired by the behavior of biological insects.

Researchers Hope to Mass-Produce Robots on a ChipImages of the robots showing their size proportional to various objects. Image credit: Edqvist, et al.


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