Flying Micro-Robot Has Pincer

A magnetically levitated micro-robot weighing just three hundredths of an ounce can move freely in space. The micro-robot has a laser-activated pincer for grasping tiny objects.


(Flying microrobot magnetically levitated)

The robot is magnetized itself and sits on top of the parabola, supported by the interaction between its own magnetic field and that created by the electromagnets. Altering the flow of current in the electromagnet distorts the field and moves the robot, Khamesee said via e-mail Thursday.

"We develop a focal point of a magnetic field in space, which the micro-robot hangs on," Khamesee said. "By changing the location of the focal point (through current control in several coils), the micro-robot is consequently moved."

The micro-robot has pincers that can be opened by heating them with a laser. When the laser is turned off, the pincers cool and close. Lasers are also used to detect the position of the robot, Khamesee said. "There are three sets of laser sensors for detecting the position of the microrobot in three-dimensional space. The robot is an obstacle for the laser beam in space, and its position can be read."

The robot is monitored by the laser sensors and a camera, which create a feedback loop to a computer. When the robot grasps an object, the magnetic field is automatically adjusted so the robot can maintain its position while supporting the weight of the object.

SF readers may compare this magnetically levitated MEMS micro-robot with the laser-powered "imps" or sub-trees based on the Christmas bush motile robot jointly conceived by Austrian roboticist Has Moravec and science-fiction writer/engineer Robert Forward. Here's an excerpt from Forward's 1985 novel Rocheworld:

The "hands" of the Christmas Bush have capabilities that go way beyond that of the human hand. The Christmas Bush can stick a "hand" inside a delicate piece of equipment, and using its lasers as a light source and its detectors as eyes, rearrange the parts inside for a near instantaneous repair. The Christmas Bush also has the ability to detach portions of itself to make smaller motiles. These can walk up the walls and along the ceilings with the tiny cilia holding onto microscopic cracks in the surface. The smaller twigs on the Christmas Bush are capable of very rapid motion. In free fall, these rapidly beating twigs allow the motile to propel itself through the air.

Update: It occurs to me that this robot is also pretty similar to what Philip K Dick envisioned for his 1960 novel Vulcan's Hammer - the robot tracking device. End update.

The real-life micro-robot could be used inside of small hazardous spaces; it's laser-activate pincer would be ideal for use in bio-hazardous experiments. The research was performed by Professor Mir Behrad Khamesee and graduate students Caglar Elbuken and Mustafa Yavuz in the UK.

From Researchers build 'flying' micro-robot. Thanks to Winchell Chung for the tip on this story.

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