Objects are the first microscopic robots made from semiconductor components. This allows them to be controlled and forced to walk with standard electronic signals, allowing them to be integrated into more traditional circuits.
The researchers behind the discovery are now hoping that they can be integrated into even more complex versions. This could allow future robots to be controlled by computer chips, mass produced – and built in such a way that they can travel through human tissue and blood, acting like surgeons, the researchers say.
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“The authors’ robots, although not autonomous in their current form, can be seen as a platform to which ‘brains’ and a battery can be attached,” wrote scientists Allan M Brooks and Michael S Strano, who did not work in the study. , in an article accompanying the announcement.
The major breakthrough in the new research has been the creation of tiny electrochemical actuators, which are then used to form the legs of the robots. These legs are about 0.1mm which is about the width of human hair.
Despite their small size, robots can be used when stimulated with lasers, allowing them to walk.
Engineers are able to make them work by hitting the legs with ultra-low currents, which force the legs to twist and then untwist, pushing the robots back and forth as they do.
In addition, robots can be created in large numbers, with the researchers behind the new paper producing more than a million walking robots on just a 4-inch piece of silicon.
Scientists behind the study claim that robots are the first to be created with a size of less than 0.1mm that can be controlled with on-board electronics.
In addition, they are able to withstand harsh environments, continuing to operate even under very acidic conditions and extreme temperature variations. Since they could be injected using hypodermic needles, a version of the robot could be used to explore the insides of animal or human bodies, the researchers said.
There are still major limits to robots, agree the researchers. They are slower than other comparable robots capable of swimming, they are unable to sense their surroundings and must be controlled from the outside.
As such, they are something like “puppets”, rather than a fully autonomous robot. While such an approach allows for impressive demonstrations of the technology, the researchers note that a certain degree of autonomy will be required before such miniature robots can be used for real practical applications.
But if researchers are able to integrate such advancements into more advanced autonomous systems, then they could help fulfill Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman’s vision that it is possible to “swallow the surgeon” and “fabricate” a little robot that could travel in the blood. vessels to perform surgery if necessary, ”wrote Brooks and Strano in their accompanying Nature article.
The research is described in an article entitled “Mass-produced electronically integrated microscopic robots”, published in Nature today.