Building Very Small Mobile Micro-Robots
published: Jan. 6, 2014, recorded: April 2007, views: 2125
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Philosophers and AI researchers may argue the point, but Bruce Donald believes his microscopic invention qualifies as a robot. Donald’s machine is about as wide as a strand of human hair. He likens it to a car, because it’s controllable: “You can steer it anywhere on a flat surface, and drive it wherever you want to go.” Unlike previous attempts at such a microelectromechanical system, Donald’s robot has no tether, but operates via electrical charges on a silicon grid. It’s a real speed demon, proceeding in nano-sized hops (one billionth of a meter, 20,000 times per second), ultimately achieving two millimeters per second, or the equivalent on a more human scale of 80 kilometers per hour. To the tunes of a Strauss waltz, Donald demonstrates two robots dancing in straight and wavy lines around each other, and then coupling to form a single system.
Donald envisions many possible applications for this work. Since his robots can push and shove things in their path, and can also latch onto each other, they might prove quite useful assisting in techniques involving protein design, manipulation of cells and biomedical engineering. The next five to 10 years, Donald predicts, will see an even smaller generation of robots, which “will be doing useful things in the lab.”
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