JUN 05, 2022 10:00 AM PDT

Tiny robotic crab is smallest-ever remote-controlled robot

If it wasn’t bad enough that robots are going to take over humanity one day, let’s just go ahead and make them smaller before they do. But we can’t just make them smaller, we need to give them pinchers, as well. A tiny robot with pinchers. Yeah, because no one has ever seen this movie before.

In a recent study published in Science Robotics, engineers at Northwestern University have developed the smallest-ever remote-controlled walking robot -- and it comes in the form of a tiny, adorable peekytoe crab. Because the beginning of the end of humanity has to start off with the word “adorable”.

Just a half-millimeter wide, the tiny crabs can bend, twist, crawl, walk, turn and even jump. The researchers also developed millimeter-sized robots resembling inchworms, crickets and beetles. Although the research is exploratory at this point, the researchers believe their technology might bring the field closer to realizing micro-sized robots that can perform practical tasks inside tightly confined spaces.

Several half-millimeter-size robots together. (Credit: Northwestern University)

Close-up image of half-millimeter-size robot. (Credit: Northwestern University)

"Robotics is an exciting field of research, and the development of microscale robots is a fun topic for academic exploration," said John A. Rogers, who led the experimental work and is a co-author on the study. "You might imagine micro-robots as agents to repair or assemble small structures or machines in industry or as surgical assistants to clear clogged arteries, to stop internal bleeding or to eliminate cancerous tumors -- all in minimally invasive procedures."

"Our technology enables a variety of controlled motion modalities and can walk with an average speed of half its body length per second," added Yonggang Huang, who led the theoretical work and is also a co-author on the study. "This is very challenging to achieve at such small scales for terrestrial robots."

Can’t quite get that grime out from underneath your fingernails? Just get your very own tiny crab robot to do it for you! Need your teeth cleaned but can’t afford to go to the dentist? Just get an army of tiny crab robots to clean them instead!

With this manufacturing method, the Northwestern team could develop robots of various shapes and sizes. So why a peekytoe crab? We can thank Rogers' and Huang's students for that.

"With these assembly techniques and materials concepts, we can build walking robots with almost any sizes or 3D shapes," Rogers said. "But the students felt inspired and amused by the sideways crawling motions of tiny crabs. It was a creative whim."

Why stop at crabs when you can make tiny, adorable robot spiders, too? what will the next step in the downfall of humanity be? Only time will tell, and this is why we science!

As always, keep doing science & keep looking up!

Sources: Science Robotics

MS in Geological Sciences
Laurence Tognetti is a six-year USAF Veteran who earned both a BSc and MSc from the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University. Laurence is extremely passionate about outer space and science communication, and is the author of “Outer Solar System Moons: Your Personal 3D Journey”.
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