Recently, there has been a fascinating development in the world of small robots. We already had the world’s smallest remote control robot, and now a group of scientists have created one of the fastest little robots ever.
According to Ars Technica, a group of researchers at the Johannes Kepler University (JKU) in Austria is developing “soft robots” that can swim, jump and run at very high speeds.
The robots are constructed from a flexible material that can be programmed to change shape under certain conditions. As they shapeshift, they can jump, run, or swim at alarmingly high speeds.
In tests, the results of which were published in Nature, the micromachines were able to move at 35 BL/s (body lengths per second) on a plane and 70 BL/s on a folded 3D surface.
For a creation that measures less than 1 cm across (2/5 inch), this equates to a speed of about 3 km/h. And that doesn’t sound very impressive.
But speed is relative, and being able to travel 70 times the length of your body in a second is pretty fast. To put that into perspective, the 439km/h and 180″ long Bugatti Chiron travels the equivalent of 26 BL/s (body lengths per second), which is less than half the speed of these “bots”.
The Boeing 747 has a top speed of 988 km/h, but its much larger dimensions mean that with some quick maths we can see that it only manages a paltry 3.89 BL/s.
In fact, if you want to approach the impressive performance of small robots, you need to look into the world of motorcycles. Maybe something like the bonkers Marine Turbine Technologies 420-RR, which is powered by a gas turbine engine and can reach speeds well over 250 mph? This impressive speed and 68″ wheelbase mean it can reach 65BL/s. Close but no cigar.
So we proved that robots are relatively fast. But how do they work?
The machines, which weigh just 180 mg (about 0.28 g), are 3D printed using a liquid metal alloy called galinstan. Most robots as small as small flying machines are made of silicon-based polymers. But the researchers used this metal alloy because it was highly conductive, making it “useful for building soft and deformable coils.”
This metal is formed into a coil, which is then surrounded by an elastomer shell, which houses the actuators to control its movement. Feet are then attached to each end and can be specially designed to suit the task or surface.
At rest, the robots are curved into a “C” shape, but when moving, they stretch out almost flat. This propels them forward before pulling back to land.
The actuators that control this movement are magnetically controlled. This means that researchers can trigger movement using a magnetic field.
There is still work to be done on micro machines. However, the researchers hope that the work they are doing could pave the way for bigger and faster robots in the future. The speed found in these creations could also apply to other small robots currently being developed to conduct lunar research or clean up ocean waste.
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