A sub-millimeter robot smaller than a flea can’t be found on the body

In Liu Cixin's short science fiction novel "Once Upon a Time in the Cretaceous Period", dinosaurs are huge and can't do fine work, but ants can, so the two take advantage of their own strengths and work together to develop their own civilization. The ant's small size and difficult to find characteristics also played an important role in promoting the development of the story.

▲ Picture from: Unsplash

It may be difficult for dinosaurs to find ants on their bodies, but if they climb on people, they may still be found. There is a classic scene in the animated version of Journey to the West. Tang Seng released an ant that climbed on his body. However, if this micro-robot appears on the body, it may not be found, after all, its width is only half a millimeter.

▲ Picture from: Northwestern University

The crab-like micro-robot developed by Northwestern University is even smaller than the hard-to-find flea, and its submillimeter size is small and light, making it harder to spot. However, the movement speed is not very fast, and it can move at the speed of about half of its body length per second.

▲ Picture from: Northwestern University

The idea and concept of this kind of micro-robot has actually appeared in many science fiction or movies (such as the man who always stands on the superhero in the poster – Ant-Man), and has also been created by researchers for exploration Purpose or similar objects to deliver drugs to specific anatomical structures, but these mostly rely on drift-like movement in the body.

▲ Picture from: GQ

Unlike these robots, the "sub-millimeter-scale crab" developed by Northwestern University can bend, twist, crawl, walk, turn, and even jump. More importantly, these actions can be performed without wires or This is done by remote manipulation with a physical connection.

▲ Picture from: Northwestern University

The ability to move without complicated hardware, hydraulic or electric drives is due to the material that the submillimeter-scale robot is made of – shape memory alloys. Its strength comes from the elasticity of the body, and since this material changes into a "memory" shape when heated, its movement can be controlled as long as it is heated.

▲ Picture from: Northwestern University

The robot's motion and manipulation modes can be bent, twisted, and expanded using global heating, or laser-induced local thermal actuation for linear/curve crawling, walking, turning, and jumping. The laser can not only remotely control the robot to start, but also the direction of the laser scanning determines the walking direction of the robot.

▲ Picture from: Northwestern University

Since the body is special, this kind of small and "obedient" robot naturally has its own special use. Although the study is still in the exploratory stage, the researchers believe that with this technology, it may become a micro-robot capable of performing practical tasks in confined spaces.

▲ Picture from: Northwestern University

For example, these "little crabs" can repair or assemble small and medium-sized industrial structures or machines; they can also be used as "surgical assistants" for minimally invasive surgery to unclog blocked arteries, stop bleeding, or remove cancerous tumors… Participants in this study Professor John A. Rogers also said that with these assembly techniques and material concepts, walking robots can be built in many sizes or three-dimensional shapes.

Interestingly, some people have some "peculiar" doubts about this micro-robot: what if it crawls into the ear?

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