|Building big: A team of three small, magnetically steered robots worked together to build this structure from toothpick-sized carbon rods.|
Someone glancing through the door of Annjoe Wong-Foy’s lab at SRI International might think his equipment is infested by ants. Dark shapes about a centimeter across move to and fro over elevated walkways: they weave around obstacles and carry small sticks.
A closer look makes it clear that these busy critters are in fact man-made. Wong-Foy, a senior research engineer at SRI, has built an army of magnetically steered workers to test the idea that “microrobots” could be a better way to assemble electronics components, or to build other small structures.
Wong-Foy’s robotic workers have already proved capable of building towers 30 centimeters (two feet) long from carbon rods, and other platforms able to support a kilogram of weight. The robots can work with glass, metal, wood, and electronic components. In one demonstration, they made a carbon truss structure with wires and colored LEDs mixed in to serve as the lab’s Christmas tree.
“We can scale to many more robots at low cost,” says Wong-Foy, who thinks his system could develop into a new approach to manufacturing. Many electronic components are the right size to be handled by his microrobots, he says, and teams of them might prove a good way to lay them out onto circuit boards.
MIT Technology Review:
Tiny robots that work together like ants could lead to a new way to manufacture complex structures and electronics, by Tom Simonite