Tiny robots that can be controlled by laser light


The robot’s circuit is made with silicon solar cell for its body and head, and electrochemical actuators are attached to function as legs. When laser light is flashed on the cells while switching the laser back and forth between the front and back cells, the robot walks.

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A team of researchers at Cornell University and University of Pennsylvania have built microscopic robots that can be controlled by flashing laser pulses.

“Controlling a tiny robot is maybe as close as you can come to shrinking yourself down. I think machines like these are going to take us into all kinds of amazing worlds that are too small to see,” Marc Miskin, the study’s lead author said.

 

The robot’s circuit is made with silicon solar cell for its body and head, and electrochemical actuators are attached to function as legs. The solar cell converts light into electricity, and the electrochemical actuators convert electrical energy into mechanical energy, the paper noted.

When laser light is flashed on the cells while switching the laser back and forth between the front and back cells, the robot walks, it explained.

 

“The innovations that we made to make them compatible with standard microchip fabrication open the door to making these microscopic robots smart, fast and mass producible,” Itai Cohen, Professor of Physics at Cornell University said.

The researchers said that “creating the legs was an enormous feat,” as the legs did not exist before. The team constructed the legs from strips of platinum only a few dozen atoms thick, capped on one side by a thin layer of inert titanium.

The robots are about 5 microns thick, 40 microns wide and range from 40 to 70 microns in length.
 
| Photo Credit: Cornell University

 

“There were no small, electrically activatable actuators that you could use. So, we had to invent those and then combine them with the electronics,” Paul McEuen, Professor of Physical Science at Cornell University said.

These robots operate with low voltage (200 millivolts) and low power (10 nanowatts), and are about 5 microns thick (a micron is one-millionth of a meter), 40 microns wide and range from 40 to 70 microns in length, as a result “about 1 million bots fit on a 4-inch silicon wafer,” according to the paper.

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