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Microbots, robots no more than a centimeter in size, could have many applications but they are hampered by limited movements. Now, inspired by origami, researchers from the University of Michigan have succeeded in creating microbots that can fold at large angles, 90 degrees and more, allowing them to execute more complicated tasks.
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“We’ve come up with a new way to design, fabricate and actuate microbots,” said Evgueni Filipov, a U-M assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering.
“We’ve been the first to bring advanced origami folding capabilities into one integrated microbot system.”
The new bots can take on a variety of shapes to tackle a variety of tasks with varying degrees of difficulty. Perhaps more impressive is the fact that the researchers have added a layer of gold to the bots to act as an onboard actuator and eliminate the need for an outside stimulus to trigger the bots' movements.
Normally, microbots require an outside stimulus to function such as heat or a magnetic field. But these impressive little bots bypass this step.
“When current passes through the gold layer, it creates heat, and we use heat to control the motions of the microbot,” Filipov said.
The researchers drive the initial fold by heating the system. Unfolding is then made easy: the system simply needs to cool down.
If they want to get the bots to fold and stay folded, the researchers then overheat the system. When they do this, the researchers can reprogram the fold to change where it comes to rest.
Altogether, these systems allow microbots to work elastically, now possessing the ability to recover their original shape after their task is completed.
Currently, the bots are controlled by a tether but the researchers hope that, eventually, an onboard battery and a microcontroller will apply an electric current that will be used to guide the tiny instruments.
The researchers say the bots have applications in fields from medical equipment to infrastructure sensing. The study is published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.