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Crabtastic! Adorable robotic crab tinier than a FLEA can bend, twist, crawl and even jump

Crabtastic! Adorable robotic crab tinier than a FLEA can bend, twist, crawl and even jump – and is the smallest EVER remote-controlled walking robot

  • The robot is inspired by peekytoe crabs and measures just 0.02 inches wide 
  • Despite being smaller than a flea, the robot can bend, twist, crawl and even jump
  • Researchers believe the bot could be used to perform a tasks in confined spaces

An adorable robotic crab has been developed by scientists – but you’ll need a magnifying glass if you want to see it.

The tiny bot is inspired by peekytoe crabs and measures just 0.02 inches (0.5mm) wide, making it the smallest ever remote-controlled walking robot.

Despite being smaller than a flea, the robot can bend, twist, crawl, walk, turn, and even jump.

Researchers from Northwestern University, who developed the robot, believe the bot could be used to perform a range of tasks in confined spaces.

‘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 tumours — all in minimally invasive procedures,’ said Professor John Rogers, who led the project.

An adorable robotic crab has been developed by scientists – but you’ll need a magnifying glass if you want to see it

How could it be used? 

Researchers from Northwestern University, who developed the robot, believe the bot could be used to perform a range of tasks in confined spaces.

‘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 tumours — all in minimally invasive procedures,’ said Professor John Rogers, who led the project.

‘Robotics is an exciting field of research, and the development of microscale robots is a fun topic for academic exploration,’ Professor Rogers added.

The robotic crab is not powered by complex hardware, hydraulics, or electricity, and instead relies on the elastic resilience of its body.

To develop the robot, the team used a shape-memory alloy material that transforms to its ‘remembered’ shape when heated.

This is coated in a thin layer of glass, which returns the robot to its deformed shape when it cools.

Using a scanned laser beam, the team rapidly heat the robot at different target locations across its body.

As the robot changes to its remembered shape and back again, it creates movement.

This means that by changing the direction of the laser scanning, the researchers can control the robot’s walking direction.

‘Because these structures are so tiny, the rate of cooling is very fast,’ Professor Rogers explained.

Despite being smaller than a flea, the robot can bend, twist, crawl, walk, turn, and even jump

Despite being smaller than a flea, the robot can bend, twist, crawl, walk, turn, and even jump

The robotic crab is not powered by complex hardware, hydraulics, or electricity, and instead relies on the elastic resilience of its body

The robotic crab is not powered by complex hardware, hydraulics, or electricity, and instead relies on the elastic resilience of its body

‘In fact, reducing the sizes of these robots allows them to run faster.’

To make the tiny robot, the researchers first made flat structures, before bonding them together on a slightly stretched rubber substrate.

When this substrate is relaxed, it slightly buckles, causing the crab to ‘pop up’ into a precisely formed 3D structure.

‘With these assembly techniques and materials concepts, we can build walking robots with almost any sizes or 3D shapes,’ Professor Rogers said.

‘But the students felt inspired and amused by the sideways crawling motions of tiny crabs. It was a creative whim.’

‘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.

‘This is very challenging to achieve at such small scales for terrestrial robots.’



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