Insect Robots: Unleashing Nature's Efficiency in Robotics
Asia/ Digital/ Updates

Ant-Man Technology: Insect Robots Small Enough to Learn Surgery

Ant Man Technology Insect Robots Small Enough to Learn Surgery Header Photo by Website/Washington State University

In the realm of robotics, scientists at Washington State University (WSU) have achieved a significant breakthrough with the creation of insect-like micro-robots. These remarkable creations, consisting of a mini-bug and a water strider, are not only the smallest and lightest micro-robots ever developed but also the fastest in terms of functionality.

The potential applications for such miniature robots are vast and diverse. Ranging from artificial pollination and search and rescue missions to environmental monitoring, micro-fabrication, and even robotic-assisted surgery, these tiny marvels offer a glimpse into the future of technological innovation.

In a recent study published in the proceedings of the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society's International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems, the mini-bug amazed researchers, weighing in at a mere eight milligrams. Its counterpart, the water strider, proved equally impressive, weighing only 55 milligrams. As the name suggests, the water strider takes its ’ form after the bug species of the same name. Despite their size, both robots can achieve a movement speed of approximately six millimetres per second.

The key to their exceptional performance lies in the development of their actuators, responsible for their locomotion. Conor Trygstad, a PhD student in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering at WSU, applied an innovative fabrication technique to miniaturize the actuators to less than a milligram, making them the tiniest ever created.

Ant-Man Technology: Insect Robots Small Enough to Learn Surgery
Website/Washington State University

Utilizing a shape memory alloy, the actuators possess the ability to change shape when heated and subsequently return to their original form. This unique property allows the micro-robots to move without the need for traditional motors or moving parts. Trygstad emphasizes the mechanical robustness of these tiny wonders, stating, "The development of the very lightweight actuator opens up new realms in micro-robotics."

One notable advantage of the shape memory alloy technology used in these robots is its efficiency. Requiring minimal electricity or heat to operate, the SMA system offers a significant reduction in power consumption compared to other robotic movement technologies.

Looking ahead, the WSU research team aims to further enhance their micro-robots by emulating the movements of other insects. Inspired by the efficient leg-rowing motion of water striders, they aspire to develop a water strider-type robot capable of gliding across the water surface and submerging beneath it. Moreover, efforts are underway to equip these robots with tiny batteries or catalytic combustion systems, enabling them to operate autonomously and untethered from external power sources.

The advent of these insect-inspired micro-robots showcases the potential for robotics to draw inspiration from nature, revolutionizing the field with their unprecedented capabilities. As researchers continue to refine their designs and unlock new possibilities, the future of micro-robotics holds immense promise for transforming industries and shaping our digital realities.

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