In a recent study published in Science Robotics, a team of researchers led by Cornell University have successfully installed electronic ‘brains’ on solar-powered robots that range in size from 100 to 250 micrometers, which is smaller than the head of an ant, that allows them to walk freely without the need for external control such attached wires. Previous research from both Cornell and others developed microscopic robots that walked, crawled, swam, and even folded themselves up. However, researchers found “strings” were always attached to this method, to include requiring external means such as installed wires or laser beams to be used to power the robot’s motion.
"Before, we literally had to manipulate these 'strings' in order to get any kind of response from the robot," said Dr. Itai Cohen, who is a professor of physics at Cornell, and a co-author on the study. "But now that we have these brains on board, it's like taking the strings off the marionette. It's like when Pinocchio gains consciousness."
This study holds the potential for creating a new generation of microscopic machines capable of sniffing out chemicals, tracking bacteria, conducting microsurgery, destroying pollutants, and even scrubbing the plaque out of arteries.
The “brain” introduced in the study’s robots consists of a complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) clock circuit that houses thousands of transistors, along with an assemblage of capacitors, resistors, and diodes. The CMOS circuit gives the robot the ability to move its legs, which consist of platinum-based actuators, with photovoltaics powering both sets of mechanisms.
"Eventually, the ability to communicate a command will allow us to give the robot instructions, and the internal brain will figure out how to carry them out," said Cohen. "Then we're having a conversation with the robot. The robot might tell us something about its environment, and then we might react by telling it, 'OK, go over there and try to suss out what's happening.'"
Sources: Science Robotics
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