Robots are one thing but if you want to get really geeky you need to enter the world of microbotics as they are the foundation upon which the robots we are more familiar with are built on. Things like actuators, motors, or even batteries but until recently they seem to have hit a size ceiling however that may have changed if the work coming out of SRI International by Ron Pelrine is any indication.
Through Pelrine’s work on levitated microbots we may actually be getting closer towards fast, more precise, and affordable robotic systems which are made up of thousands of microbots, if not millions of them.
The idea is remarkably simple. The robots are stripped of pretty much everything, including sensors, actuation systems and power source. The off-loaded components are incorporated into a complex, off-board control system. What is left are just simple clusters of magnets that can be customized with appendages designed for particular purposes. The robots hover in the air, controlled by the magnetic field generated by circuits below the work surface. This approach has several advantages over self-contained microrobots. These advantages may turn out to be significant enough for the idea to become a paradigm-shifter.
One of the biggest advantages of Pelrine’s work is that it makes use of already existing materials which means that with nothing more than off-the-shelf circuitry and a few magnets you could build your very own micro-scale factory.
Here is a short video outlining the work: