As fast as their tiny bot legs will carry them Science Nation
â™«MUSICâ™« MILES O'BRIEN: Bigger isn't always better. Take insects they're smallâ€¦ yet a cockroach can outmaneuver a human with a rolled up newspaper. Fleas can jump twohundred times their height, and antsé SARAH BERGBREITER: Ants can move up to 40 body lengths per second. MILES O'BRIEN: What if robots could have the same movesé
With support from the National Science Foundation, Engineer Sarah Bergbreiter and colleagues at the University of Maryland are building microrobots â€“ using insects as inspiration starting with their legs. SARAH BERGBREITER: The objective of this project is to create legs that ultimately allow a millimeter scale robot to traverse rough terrain at high speeds. MILES O'BRIEN: Bergbreiter's robots are so small her team
uses a microscope to build them. SARAH BERGBREITER: So how do you build anything at this scaleâ€¦ this is the question (laughs). So, we use the same processes that you use to make integrated circuits. Those are 2 legs. This is our jumping mechanismâ€¦ MILES O'BRIEN: Many insects jump to clear obstacles, so Bergbreiter is working to build that capability into some of the microbots.
SARAH BERGBREITER: So what we can do is compress this and store energy in those rubber bands, and release those for a jump. MILES O'BRIEN: They test out different materials and designs on bigger 'bots, before scaling them down. SARAH BERGBREITER: So we have the little magnetic leg robot. MILES O'BRIEN: One challenge is determining how microrobots should move around, so they test that in a preliminary design
process using magnets instead of motors. This leg is made with a flexible silicone rubber. SARAH BERGBREITER: We have a knee cap here that prevents the leg from going in this direction, but it bends in this direction, and then we have a foot down hereâ€¦ so basically push forward and walk. MILES O'BRIEN: These socalled quot;tiny terpsquot; can be used to study sensing and cooperation at small scales.
SARAH BERGBREITER: It has two boards with a microcontroller, a gyroscope and accelerometer. There's a battery hereâ€¦ it attaches with magnets. So, ultimately we want sensors on them as wellâ€¦ MILES O'BRIEN: Bergbreiter sees the microbots as mobile sensor platforms, carrying tools like cameras into small spaces for surveillance, microsurgery, to monitor the structural safety of buildings and bridges, and even deploying on search