Self-assembling microrobots can be programmed to form a tiny steerable car

It’s easy to think that the world’s most exciting robots are those that exist on the larger end of the size spectrum, whether it’s humanoid robots created by Boston Dynamics or even larger mech-inspired robots. Researchers at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems think differently, however.

They’ve developed a new way of controlling self-assembling mobile micromachines. It allows tiny micromachines of different designs to be programmed to assemble in different formations. Remember the way that different “Zords” in Power Rangers joined to together to form a larger Megazord? It’s basically that — only with self-assembling robots between 40 to 50 micro meters in size. That’s around half the diameter of a single human hair.

“[With this work,] we have demonstrated microrobots that can spontaneously assemble themselves with a preprogrammed organization,” Berk Yigit, a Ph.D. student in the Max Planck Institute’s Physical Intelligence Department, told Digital Trends.

“We showed for the first time [that] microrobots can be assembled with controlled organization of structural (for example, the chassis of a car) and motor units (such as wheels) under [an] electric field,” said Yunus Alapan, a mechanical engineer who also worked on the project. “We have achieved this by simply controlling the three-dimensional shape of the assembling components. This novel and straightforward approach has enabled us to create micron-scale robots with so many different configurations, from a microcar and rocket to microrotors, as well as three-dimensional micropumps.”

Impressively, controlling the organization of these components can be done with the simple flick of a switch. Simply changing the electric field frequency can alter the locomotion mode of the miniature bots. The researchers think the work could have biomedical application, such as creating tiny robots for delivering drug molecules.

In the future, the team is hoping to develop components that can carry out individual functions, such as sensing or cargo loading. “[One] route we are currently pursuing is achieving the programmable organization of actuators over a soft microrobot body,” Alapan said. “A flexible robot body with controlled actuators distributed around would allow us to generate more complex locomotion capabilities, such as swimming freely in liquid similar to sperm cells or crawling over surfaces, akin to mammalian cells.”

A paper describing the research was recently published in the journal Nature Materials.

Emerging Tech

Like the real thing, this robot ant colony is more than the sum of its parts

Researchers have built a robot ant colony, consisting of tiny 10-gram robots which are able to communicate with one another, assign roles among themselves, and work together to complete tasks.

Amazon Prime Day drops deal on Razor EcoSmart Metro Electric Scooter

The Razor EcoSmart Metro Electric Scooter is easy to assemble, easy to ride, and has great battery life and a top speed of 18 mph. With a Prime Day 2019 sale taking 46% off the normal price, it's now much easier on the pocketbook, too.
Emerging Tech

NASA thinks 3D-printing spacecraft parts in orbit will help Moon to Mars mission

NASA funded the demonstration by a small spacecraft named Archinaut One to manufacture and assemble parts while in space. NASA believes that the technology will change future space exploration, including its Moon to Mars initiative.
Emerging Tech

Stay up to date on Tropical Storm Barry's path with these apps and websites

Looking to track Tropical Storm Barry as it makes landfall and heads into the southeastern U.S.? We've assembled a list of the best hurricane tracking apps and websites to stay ahead of the storm, and out of harm's way.

SpaceX’s Starhopper rocket bursts into flames during tests

SpaceX ran into trouble Tuesday evening when a small fire erupted from the engine of a prototype rocket it was testing at the company’s facility in Boca Chica, Texas. It's not clear if the fire caused any damage to the rocket itself
Emerging Tech

Buying on a budget? Here's all the best tech you can snag for $25 or less

We live in a world where you can get a cheeseburger for $1, a functioning computer for $5, and thousands of HD movies for $10 -- so it stands to reason that you should be able to pick up some pretty sweet gear for $25.
Emerging Tech

IBM’s Wimbledon-watching A.I. is poised to revolutionize sports broadcasts

IBM has developed a smart A.I. with an appreciation for what makes a great tennis match like the recent epic at Wimbledon. Here's how IBM developed it -- and why tools like it are the future of sport broadcasting.
Digital Trends Live

Digital Trends Live: Emoji Day, Apollo 11 broadcast, drone flamethrowers

On this episode of DT Live, we discuss the top stories in tech, including Emoji Day festivities, the extended battery life of the new Nintendo Switch, an Apollo 11 real-time broadcast, and a functional flamethrower attachment for drones.
Emerging Tech

6 questions we have about Elon Musk’s Neuralink brain interface technology

Elon Musk's Neuralink sounds like an exciting leap forward for human-computer relations, but brain implants raise the specter of Black Mirror-esque privacy invasions. We have a few questions about how this would work.

Canadian medical project demonstrates the health care potential of smart homes

A medical project involving smart homes demonstrates the technology's potential in treating mental illness and providing patients with a level of independence previously thought impossible.
Emerging Tech

Implant restores sight in blind patients by beaming images directly to the brain

Engineers have developed a neural implant which could help restore vision for completely blind people by bypassing non-functioning optical nerves and inputting images directly into their brains.

Ride in style with the Xiaomi Mi electric scooter for $97 less post-Prime Day

Scooters started out as a plaything for kids. But now they are larger and have become a common and efficient means to commute, like the Xiaomi Mi electric scooter. It's available on Amazon as a post-Prime Day deal for $97 less.
Emerging Tech

Trippy VR demo reads your brain waves to create sleep-inducing visuals

Struggle to get to sleep? Researchers in Australia have been experimenting with ways to combine a person’s brain activity with virtual reality to create a kind of VR lullaby machine.
Emerging Tech

Elon Musk says SpaceX’s Starship can land on the moon by 2021

SpaceX boss Elon Musk said recently that he believes its Starship spacecraft can land on the moon by 2021, adding that he hopes his company can help to build a "permanently occupied lunar base" there.