Directing Microrobot Swarms

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, Dartmouth College, and Duke University recently demonstrated that a single electrical charge can direct microrobots to self-assemble into larger structures.


(Each robot consists of a body
(about 100 micrometers long) and
an arm that it uses to turn
)

"Most of the work to date has been on controlling a single robot that can move around in a pre-defined area on a substrate," adds Jason Gorman [robotics researcher in the Intelligent Systems Division at NIST]. "However, many of the applications of interest will require control of lots of robots, like a colony of ants."

Bruce Donald, a professor of computer science and biochemistry at Duke, took a different approach, developing a microrobot that responds to electrostatic potential and is powered with voltage through an electric-array surface. Now he and others have demonstrated that they are able to control a group of these microrobots to create large shapes. They do this by tweaking the design of each robot a little so that each one responds to portions of the voltage with a different action, resulting in complex behaviors by the swarm.

So far, Paprotny has been able to control up to four robots on a single surface at once, and the robots can move several thousand times their body length per second, as detailed in a paper that is currently submitted for review. His next plan is to adapt the setup for a liquid environment so that the microrobots can assemble components of biological tissue into patterns that mimic nature.

I'm reminded of the nanomachine swarm from Stanislaw Lem's The Invincible:

"What is the nature of this cloud? What is your opinion?" he asked without any introductory remarks.

"It is made up of tiny metal particles. A remote-controlled emulsion, as it were, with uniform center," answered Jazon.

...I believe them to be very tiny pseudo insects that, if necessary, and for their common good, can unite to form a superordinate system (Read more about nanomachine swarm team)

Via Technology Review.

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