Microrobots researchers have been working for decades, in a seemingly futile attempt, to keep up with the miniaturization that has been achieved in the field of microelectronics. Although rudimentary microscopic robots have been developed, they have failed to take full advantage of conventional silicon electronics and so are limited in their functionality. Specifically, no one has developed an actuator at micrometer resolutions that can work with semiconductor processing and be triggered using conventional electronic signals.
Now, researchers from Cornell University are reporting in the journal Nature that they have successfully created millions of sub-hundred-micrometer walking robots that operate using conventional electronics. These are so small, about the size of paramecium, that hundreds of them can pass through a hypodermic needle at the same time. The robots feature four electrochemical actuators as legs that connect to silicon photovoltaics that serve as the processing center.
“In the context of the robot’s brains, there’s a sense in which we’re just taking existing semiconductor technology and making it small and releasable,” said Paul McEuen, one of the scientists that led the project. “But the legs did not exist before. There were no small, electrically activatable actuators that you could use. So we had to invent those and then combine them with the electronics.” Via…