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Microrobots dance on something smaller than a pin's head
Date:6/2/2008

DURHAM, N.C. -- Microscopic robots crafted to maneuver separately without any obvious guidance are now assembling into self-organized structures after years of continuing research led by a Duke University computer scientist.

"It's marvelous to be able to do assembly and control at this fine a resolution with such very, very tiny things," said Bruce Donald, a Duke professor of computer science and biochemistry.

Each microrobot is shaped something like a spatula but with dimensions measuring just microns, or millionths of a meter. They are almost 100 times smaller than any previous robotic designs of their kind and weigh even less, Donald added.

Formally known as microelectromechanical system (MEMS) microrobots, the devices are of suitable scale for Lilliputian tasks such as moving around the interiors of laboratories-on-a-chip.

In videos produced by the team, two microrobots can be seen pirouetting to the music of a Strauss waltz on a dance floor just 1 millimeter across. In another sequence, the devices pivot in a precise fashion whenever their boom-like steering arms are drawn down to the surface by an electric charge. This response resembles the way dirt bikers turn by extending a boot heel.

New research summaries describe the group's latest accomplishment: getting five of the devices to group-maneuver in cooperation under the same control system.

"Our work constitutes the first implementation of an untethered, multi-microrobotic system," Donald's team writes in a report to be presented on June 1-2, 2008 during the Hilton Head Workshop on Solid State Sensors, Actuators and Microsystems in South Carolina.

More comprehensive details on how the scientists achieve this "microassembly" will be published later in their report for the Journal of Microelectromechanical Systems.

The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Homeland Security, and also included
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Contact: Monte Basgall
monte.basgall@duke.edu
919-681-8057
Duke University
Source:Eurekalert

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