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World’s smallest remote-controlled robots are smaller than a flea

So small, you can't feel it crawl

Video Robot boffins have revealed they've created a half-millimeter wide remote-controlled walking robot that resembles a crab, and hope it will one day perform tasks in tiny crevices.

In a paper published in the journal Science Robotics , the boffins said they had in mind applications like minimally invasive surgery or manipulation of cells or tissue in biological research.

With a round tick-like body and 10 protruding legs, the smaller-than-a-flea robot crab can bend, twist, crawl, walk, turn and even jump. The machines can move at an average speed of half their body length per second - a huge challenge at such a small scale, said the boffins.

The machines move using thermal actuation.

“A balance of forces associated with a one-way shape memory alloy and the elastic resilience of an encapsulating shell provides the basis for reversible deformations of these structures,” wrote the boffins, describing the design that allows it to straighten when heated and bend when cooled. The heat is applied remotely through a laser then dissipates quickly thanks to the robots' small size.

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The machines also lack batteries, servos and other electronics, keeping its weight tiny. That feature also make them terrifyingly undetectable to human senses.

“Because these structures are so tiny, the rate of cooling is very fast. In fact, reducing the sizes of these robots allows them to run faster,” lead researcher and nano fabrication expert John Rogers explained to his Northwestern University’s news page.

Rogers called the crab-like feature of the design “a creative whim.” Its manufacturing, however, was inspired by childhood pop-up books. In this “pop-up assembly method,” fabricated precursors are bonded to stretched rubber substrate that when relaxed buckles and pops up into a 3D form.

In addition to the flea-sized crab-bots, researchers also developed millimeter-sized robots resembling inchworms, crickets and beetles. They also are currently without an application, other than perhaps nightmares, and adding to humanity's store of knowledge.

“These collective advances in materials, manufacturing, actuation, and sensing add to a growing body of capabilities in this emerging field of technology,” said the researchers. ®


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