Scientists Create 'Mini Force Fields' For Moving Microbots Individually

Posted: Jan 13 2016, 9:05pm CST | by , Updated: Jan 14 2016, 11:00am CST, in News | Latest Science News


Credit: Purdue University

This is the first time when truly independent motion of multiple tiny robots within a system has been made possible.

Researchers at Purdue University have found a new revolutionary way to control and move swarms of microbots operating in a group independently.

Researchers have used a technology that they call “mini force field” to power and control tiny dust mite like robots and according to the researchers, this technology has implications for various fields including medicine and manufacturing.

The team has developed an array of tiny planar coils within a system to generate various magnetic fields that can control the movements of numerous tiny robots separately. Until now it was only possible to move microbots within group simultaneously not individually. 

"The robots are too small to put batteries on them, so they can't have onboard power. You need to use an external way to power them. We use magnetic fields to generate forces on the robots. It's like using mini force fields." David Cappelleri, co-author and an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University said.

The movements are controlled by repulsive forces by varying the strength of electrical current in the coils. 

The coils are made by copper pattern using the same technology that has been used for manufacturing printed circuit boards. They are more in numbers as well. Previously developed systems had few coils located in the workspace and they were not enough to control individual microbots independently.

“The approach we came up with works at microscale and it will be the first one that can give truly independent motion of multiple microbots in the same workspace because we were able to produce localized fields as opposed to a global field.” Cappelleri said.

The system was created to make sure that tiny robots can perform multiple, different tasks at the same time and can contribute to a bigger collective task. 

“The reason we want independent movement of each robot is so they can do cooperative manipulation tasks,” said Cappelleri. “Think of ants. They can independently move, yet all work together to perform tasks such as lifting and moving things. We want to be able to control them individually so we can have some robots here doing one thing and some robots there doing something else at the same time.”

During early experiments, researchers have used microbots that were about twice the size of a pinhead but they are aiming to replicate the process with much small microbots, around 250 microns in diameter or roughly the size of dust mite. They are planning to scale down coils from their current size as well.

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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