Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) technology has created many of the sensors in today’s smartphones. While similar types of sensors are also used in robots and drones as well as other technologies including a variety of vision sensors, they may have to be even smaller to fit in an autonomous microrobot.
Inspired by insects’ movements, engineers from Draper and Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) are creating a small climbing robot that is just a mere centimeter in size. Operating autonomously, the microrobots are expected to be capable of object manipulation, jumping and climbing up walls. The goal of the project is a micro first-responder robot that can squeeze into small spaces to check for trapped people or other hazards and assist search-and-rescue personnel. More broadly, working under a DARPA program called SHort-Range Independent Microrobotic Platforms (SHRIMP), the R&D team’s goal is to develop a multi-functional mm-to-cm-scale robotics platform.
To perform their desired functions, the microrobots will need built-in smart sensors to provide the ability to inform the microbot about its body position, self-movement and environment.
The low-power sensors required for the microbot will allow it to manipulate, jump, navigate and control itself while moving on rough and vertical terrain. A built-in inertial measurement unit (IMU) will help it detect its location on the ground. But all sensors must fit inside the 1-cm microrobot with all of the mechanisms that allow it to manipulate, jump, navigate and control itself.