Cornell University scientists make microscopic robots ‘walk’ with electronic signals

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Researchers have created first microscopic robots that can be made to walk and control the robots by flashing laser pulses at different photovoltaics

This could be a breakthrough in precision engineering!  Scientists from Cornell University have created the world’s first microscopic robots that can walk or be controlled with standard electronic signals. The team demonstrated how micro-robots that incorporate semiconductor components can be made to walk/respond using flashing laser pulses.

The research team who made this breakthrough consists of Itai Cohen, professor of physics, Paul McEuen, the John A. Newman Professor of Physical Science and their former postdoctoral researcher Marc Miskin, who is now an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

These micro-robots are so tiny that their size can be compared to Paramecium Algae. Each of this micro-robot is about 5 microns thick (a micron is one-millionth of a meter), 40 microns wide while they range from 40 to 70 microns in length. Each bot consists of a simple circuit made from silicon photovoltaics – which essentially functions as the torso and brain – and four electrochemical actuators that function as legs.

The researchers were able to successfully control the brain and torso movements in these micro-bots. The researchers control the robots by flashing laser pulses at different photovoltaics, each of which charges up a separate set of legs. By toggling the laser back and forth between the front and back photovoltaics, the robot can be made to walk.

These microbots operate on extremely low voltage (200 millivolts) and low power (10 nanowatts). As they are made with standard lithographic processes, they can be fabricated in parallel. the researchers say that about 1 million bots can fit on a 4-inch silicon wafer.

These bots provide a template for building even more complex versions that utilize silicon-based intelligence. These responding microbots can be mass-produced, and may someday travel through human tissue and blood like it was shown in the 1966 fantasy sci-fi movie, Fantastic Voyager. Like the movie, these microbots can bring in a revolution in the field of medicine by helping doctors deliver vital drugs to organs cutting downside effects on other medication delivery forms.

Dr. Marc Miskin, the scientist leading the research, says that the control of the robots will be done through a computer system that is tucked with AI and machine learning skills. “Controlling a tiny robot is maybe as close as you can come to shrinking yourself down. I think machines like these are going to take us into all kinds of amazing worlds that are too small to see,” said Miskin, the study’s lead author.

The team’s paper, “Electronically Integrated, Mass-Manufactured, Microscopic Robots,” was published in Nature.

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