Bug-like Robots

When it comes to robots, bigger isn’t always better. Someday, a swarm of insect-sized robots might pollinate a field of crops or search for survivors amid the rubble of a collapsed buildingMIT researchers have demonstrated diminutive drones that can zip around with bug-like agility and resilience, which could eventually perform these tasks. The soft actuators that propel these microrobots are very durable, but they require much higher voltages than similarly-sized rigid actuators. The featherweight robots can’t carry the necessary power electronics that would allow them fly on their own. Now, these researchers have pioneered a fabrication technique that enables them to build soft actuators that operate with 75 percent lower voltage than current versions while carrying 80 percent more payload. These soft actuators are like artificial muscles that rapidly flap the robot’s wings.

This new fabrication technique produces artificial muscles with fewer defects, which dramatically extends the lifespan of the components and increases the robot’s performance and payload.

This opens up a lot of opportunity in the future for us to transition to putting power electronics on the microrobot. People tend to think that soft robots are not as capable as rigid robots. We demonstrate that this robot, weighing less than a gram, flies for the longest time with the smallest error during a hovering flight. The take-home message is that soft robots can exceed the performance of rigid robots,” says Kevin Chen, who is the D. Reid Weedon, Jr. ’41 assistant professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, the head of the Soft and Micro Robotics Laboratory in the Research Laboratory of Electronics (RLE), and the senior author of the paper.

Source: https://news.mit.edu/