West Lafayette, Indiana – researchers at Purdue University has discovered a way to power and control super-miniaturized robots with the help of individual magnetic fields. Postdoctoral research associates Sagar Chowdhury and Wuming Jing, and David Cappelleri who co-authored the paper will publish the details of their finding in the journal Micromachines this month.

The team developed a system for controlling the robots with individual magnetic fields from an array of tiny planar coils. As the robots are too small to put batteries on them, they can’t have onboard power. You need to use an external way to power them. We use magnetic fields to generate forces on the robots. It’s like using mini force fields, Capelleri, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University and co-author explained.

This image shows how two microbots can be independently controlled when operating within a group, an advance aimed at using the tiny machines for applications such as advanced manufacturing and biomedical research. Credits: ECNmag

In previously developed systems the microbots were controlled using coils positioned around the perimeter of the workspace containing the tiny robots. However, this global field is not fine enough to control individual microrobots independently.

According to Cappelleri, until now it was only possible to control groups of microbots to move generally in unison but controlling them individually would mean they could do cooperative manipulation tasks.

“Think of ants. They can independently move, yet all work together to perform tasks such as lifting and moving things. We want to be able to control them individually so we can have some robots here doing one thing, and some robots there doing something else at the same time.” he said.

Microbots controlled Independently but working in groups might help us one day in areas like medicine or even manufacturing. It might be useful in building microelectromechanical systems, or MEMS, minuscule machines that could have numerous applications from medicine to homeland security.

In some previous work, the researchers were able to put force sensors on the end of these robots to figure out which cells are stiffer than others. As Cancer cells have different stiffness characteristics than non-cancer cells, this could also be used to detect cancer cells in a biopsy.

Source: EurekAlert