A group of scientists from Stanford University has developed a number of tiny robots that have the strength to drag things that are over 2000 times their own weight.
The most powerful of these robots weighs 12 grams, but can haul objects that are over 2000 times as heavy. According to one of the creators, this is the equivalent of a human being dragging a blue whale. Even lighter is the robot that is capable of climbing up vertical walls while carrying objects that weigh over a kilogram.
Weighing in at just 9 grams, this tiny robot’s feat is equivalent to a person pulling an elephant up the wall of a building. The smallest of these robots weighs a mere 20 milligrams and was put together under a microscope using a pair of tweezers. It can pull objects that weigh over 500 milligrams, which is about the size of a small paper clip, yet over 25 times the weight of the miniature robot itself.
In human terms, this ability is equal to you pulling an elephant up the wall of a building or dragging a blue whale
The fundamental technology packed in these tiny robots is inspired by the adhesive nature of a Gecko’s feet. The feet of the robots are covered with extremely small rubber spikes that grab onto surfaces during movement. Once pressure is applied to the foot, the spikes bend, which increases their surface area and hence their grip. As soon as the foot is lifted, the spikes straighten out and detach from the surface, making it easy for the robot to move forward.
Similarly, the scientists studied the fundamental locomotive mechanism of an inchworm when creating the wall-climbing mechanism of one of the robots. As one half of its body moves forward, the other stays locked in place to support the heavy load. The mechanism can be compared to a pair of people carrying a sofa up the stairs. In the same manner, this method of movement allows the robot to climb walls without losing its grip.
The robots are inspired by the mechanism used by geckos and inchworms
The team believes that these machines could eventually be used to tow heavy machinery in factories or at construction sites, while specialized models could also be used to carry our rescue operations during emergencies, such as situations where a person is trapped on a high floor in a burning building.
The robots are to be presented at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation next month, with the Stanford team hopeful about their potential utility in various tasks of everyday life.