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Watch six tiny robo-ants weighing 100g in total pull a 1,769-kg family car

Teamwork and sticky feet move mountains

Video Six robot ants, weighing a total of 3.5oz (99.2g), have managed to pull a 3,900-lb (1,769-kg) car by mimicking the behavior of wild ants and using a few other tricks of nature.

The mighty miniature machines, dubbed Microtugs, are the brainchild of boffins at the Biomimetics and Dextrous Manipulation Laboratory at Stanford University. Their feat is the equivalent of six humans taking the Eiffel Tower and three Statues of Liberty for a drag.

The team got the idea by observing ants working together to pull large object in the wild. Ants are capable of lifting 100 times their own weight. To haul large loads, they form into long chains and synchronize their footsteps to exert a steady, powerful force.

"By considering the dynamics of the team, not just the individual, we are able to build a team of our 'Microtug' robots that, like ants, are super strong individually, but then also work together as a team," team member David Christensen told The New York Times.

But there's a little bit more to it than that. Instead of legs the Microtugs use ultra-sticky wheels, using glue developed to mimic the stickiness of gecko lizards' feet. And while the car is definitely being pulled, this only happens very slowly, and because the car is on wheels it is easier to make it roll.

Nevertheless, the robots are still pulling hundreds of times their own weight, which is better than a few million years of evolution have managed to do for the ant. The research will be published in the latest issue of IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters. ®

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