"Until recently, the manual assembly process was the state of the art in this field," Sreetharan adds.
The same result can now be achievedwithout human errorthrough locking mechanisms and dip soldering. The new process also enables the use of cured carbon fiber, which is rigid and easy to align, rather than uncured carbon fiber, which Sreetharan compares to "wet tissue paper."
"Our new techniques allow us to use any material including polymers, metals, ceramics, and composites," says principal investigator Rob Wood, an Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering at SEAS and a Core Faculty Member at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard.
"The ability to incorporate any type and number of material layers, along with integrated electronics, means that we can generate full systems in any three-dimensional shape," Wood says. "We've also demonstrated that we can create self-assembling devices by including pre-stressed materials."
The implications of this novel fabrication strategy go far beyond these micro-air vehicles. The same mass-production technique could be used for high-power switching, optical systems, and other tightly integrated electromechanical devices that have parts on the scale of micrometers to centimeters.
Moreover, the layering process builds on the manufacturing process currently used to make printed circuit boards, which means that the tools for creating large sheets of pop-up devices are common and abundant. It also means that the integration of electrical components is a natural extension of the fabrication processparticularly important for the size- and weight-constrained RoboBees project.
"In a larger device, you can take a robot leg, for example, open it up, and just bolt in circuit boards. We're so small that we don't get to do that. I can't put a structural mechanism in here and have it serve no electrical function."
Pointing to the carbon-fiber
|Contact: Caroline Perry|