Each is about half a millimeter wide, less than a penny in the United States.
Co-author John A. Rogers, the Louis Simpson and Kimberly Querrey Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Northwestern University, said it took a year and a half to create the tiny metallic creatures.
He said his team is made up of students from various academic levels who have combined critical and creative thinking skills to design robots that look like crab, as well as other animals such as tiny worms and crickets.
Rogers said that some students found the crab’s side motion funny, which was the inspiration behind the crab robot. He added that the little robot can also twist, turn and jump.
The robots, made of a memory alloy of a flexible shape, start out as flat objects, similar to a piece of paper. He said the legs and arms are bent so the robot can stand. Rogers said the crab stays on its feet until it moves with heat.
He explained that a metal body made of a memory alloy can deform, but return to its original shape once heat is applied to it.
The “original” form of cancer is when it is flat, while the “distorted” form is when the arms and legs are bent.
Rogers said the crab will stay on its feet until laser heat is used to move the crab.
His team will heat up some of the joints to return them partially to their original, flat state. When heat was applied repeatedly in a specific order, the crabs were able to move, similar to the way humans bend and straighten their legs to walk.
Rogers said a laser was used to apply heat to different parts of the crab’s robot to create movement.
“Lasers are an easy way to do this because we can focus light on a very small spot and scan that spot to illuminate different parts of the robot’s body in a time series,” he said.
The robots are still being developed and made primarily for academic purposes, Rogers said, but the technology used to make tiny crabs has potential.
He said the tiny scratching robots could be used to perform minimally invasive surgeries or help assemble and repair small machines.
Meanwhile, Rogers has challenged his team to expand the capabilities of the robot.
“As an ambitious goal, I asked the students if they could think of a way to make these robots fly—impossible, perhaps, but it’s fun to think about,” he said.
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