May 3, 2015 | By Kira

Researchers at Stanford University have built tiny robots that can pull objects nearly 2,000 times their own weight horizontally, or 100 time their weight vertically up a glass surface.

To give you some perspective, these robots are about the size and weight of a bouncy ball, yet can move 21kg iron weights. Put another way, they are the equivalent of a human being hauling a blue whale across a beach, or, in the case of the vertical tug, a person climbing a skyscraper with an elephant on their back.

The robots were developed by a team of researchers at Stanford University’s Biomimetics and Dextrous Manipulation Lab, who, despite working with some of the most advanced robotic technology, turned to nature for inspiration. In order to give their MicroTugs the force to pull such heavy objects, they emulated the ‘sticky’ feet paddings that give creatures such as geckos and ants the ability to climb just about anywhere.

Just like a gecko, the bottom of the robot is covered with thousands of tiny, rubber, hair-like spikes that bend and stick to whatever surface they are placed on, creating a super-strong adhesive. Once latched onto the ground, the robot uses onboard motors to haul its load (attached via tow cable and hook), then picks itself back up, straightening out the spikes and allowing them to easily detach. In another nature-inspired twist, this kind of two-step forward movement was inspired by the way inchworms ‘walk’. This ‘sticky feet’ technique suggests that adhesion can dramatically outperform friction robots. Check out the videos below for a scientific breakdown, or this simplified video explanation hosted by two of the researchers themselves.

The ‘micro’ in MicroTugs is certainly there for a reason. One of the bots demonstrated by the research team weights only 20mg and can carry 500mg, but was so tiny it had to be assembled with tweezers under a microscope. The other MicroTugs, which range from 9g to 20g, all fit within the palm of your hand. The researchers used 3D printing to make the parts, no doubt due to the precision scaling the technology allows, as well as the cost effectiveness—currently, each robot costs only about $20 to make.

While moving a coffee mug across a table might not seem that impressive, the research team sees their MicroTugs as a launching pad for larger scale projects. For example, larger and more powerful MicroTugs, which could easily be 3D printed on larger printers, could be used in factories or on construction sites. Alternatively, the robots could be scaled up and deployed as a team to pull objects out of hard to reach places, or even be sent into dangerous areas such as collapsed mines or burning houses to rescue survivors. The Pentagon’s Darpa research unit has even been working on a similar technique that would allow soldiers to climb walls Spider Man-style.

The MicroTug robots will be displayed at the International Conference on Robots and Automoation in Seattle from May 26-30. 



Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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Westin Banks wrote at 9/7/2018 2:06:02 AM:

Can you purchase these anywhere asking for a senior design project. wrote at 5/10/2015 2:31:57 AM:

wow... wonderful, any tutorial 'how to make it'?

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