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ACM TechNews

Herding Swarms of Microrobots

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Igor Paprotny

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley and Duke University demonstrated that they were able to control a group of microrobots to create complex patterns.

The microrobots respond to electrostatic charges and are activated with voltage through an electric-array surface. The researchers tweaked the design of each robot so that they would respond to the same amount of voltage with a different action. The robots contain an actuator called a scratch drive that bends in response to voltage running through the electric array, and when it releases tension it goes forward in a movement that is similar to an inchworm's.

The key to varying behavior is the arms extending from the actuators--a steering arm on a microrobot snaps down in response to the voltage, dragging on the surface and causing the robot to turn. By snapping the arm up and down as many as 600 times a second, the team can control how much a robot turns, while computer algorithms vary the voltage and prompt them to move in complex ways.

The team has been able to simultaneously control up to 10 robots on a single surface, and the robots can move several thousand times their body length per second.

From Technology Review
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