Northwestern University engineers have invented the world’s smallest remote-controlled walking robot, just a half millimeter wide. Could any science fiction writer, however imaginative, conceive of a walking robot no bigger than a grain of sand?
It took a year and a half to create the miniscule metal creatures, said coauthor John A. Rogers, the Louis Simpson and Kimberly Querrey Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Northwestern University.
His team was comprised of students across varying academic levels who combined critical- and creative-thinking skills to design robots that looked like crabs as well as other animals like inchworms and crickets, he said.
Some students found the sideways motion of crabs to be amusing, which was the inspiration behind the crab robot, Rogers said. The tiny robot can also twist, turn and jump, he added.
The robots, which are made of a malleable shape-memory alloy, start out as flat objects, similar to a piece of paper. The legs and arms are bent so the robot can stand, he said. The crab stays standing on its legs until heat is used to get the crab to move, Rogers said.
A metallic object made of shape-memory alloy can be deformed but returns to its original shape once heat is applied to it, he explained.