Scientists at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences have created a new miniaturized robotics design. This new technology effectively solves the challenge that comes with minimizing robotics. The result is a high-performance, high-speed robot that is extremely precise and incredibly small — and one that has multiple applications in the fields of medicine and manufacturing.
The new robot, called the milliDelta robot, is the next iteration of Delta robots. These robots are used in a variety of fields including industrial processes and food packaging. Delta robots rely on three individually controlled arms to maneuver and manipulate objects. They are capable of moving objects in specific patterns. Over the years the robots have become smaller and smaller to handle increasingly delicate tasks. Unfortunately the reduction in size has recently stalled, and shrinking them to the millimeter scale has been only a dream — until now.
Scientists have conquered the miniaturization conundrum in a unique fashion. They’ve integrated microfabrication techniques with high-performance composite materials. This allows them to add flexural joints and bending actuators to the milliDeltas. With these additions the tiny robots can perform micromanipulations at incredibly high speeds.
The microfrabrication aspect is key to the success of the robots. Inspired by origami and pop-up books, the team developed a micro-fabrication technology back in 2011. The manufacturing system allowed for the assembly of robots from flat sheets of composite materials. This allowed them to create robots measuring in at 15 mm-by-15 mm-by-20 mm.
“The physics of scaling told us that bringing down the size of Delta robots would increase their speed and acceleration, and pop-up MEMS manufacturing with its ability to use any material or combination of materials seemed an ideal way to attack this problem. This approach also allowed us to rapidly go through a number of iterations that led us to the final milliDelta.”
Scientists believe that these new miniaturized robots will have a plethora of applications in a variety of fields. Besides continuing to work in the industrial and food packaging industries, their ability to perform delicate work at high speeds makes them potentially a huge resource for the medical industry as well.