Micro-Robots for Various Applications are Researched

Micro-Robots for Various Applications are Researched

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Micro-robotic manipulators with the ability to move in increments far smaller than the width of a human hair might be enlisted for a range of applications in research, manufacturing, medicine and homeland security.

However, according to Purdue University website, a critical obstacle must first be solved: Researchers don’t yet fully understand how to best operate the micro-manipulator bots because of various forces unique to the micro- and nano-scale.

“With an ordinary robot, say you want to pick up a part and move it somewhere,” said David Cappelleri, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University. “We understand the physics behind the manipulation of these kinds of robots, and we have a lot of simulation tools and control methodologies to help plan these motions, execute and control them. We are interested in trying to do similar things at the micro scale, but the problem is that the physics at that scale is not really well understood.”

“Eventually, we want fully autonomous, production-level systems for industry and research applications,” Cappelleri said.

Factors including van der Waals’ forces, electrostatic and surface tension forces cause “stiction” between tiny components that affect their operation.

“You have stiction – adhesion forces – so it makes everything very unpredictable,” said Cappelleri, director of Purdue’s Multi-Scale Robotics & Automation Lab.  

The project could make possible new “motion planners,” which can be likened to roadmaps, and specialized surfaces that contain nanometer-scale features on which to operate the micro-robots.

The researchers will work to develop a new type of “vision-based force sensor” that uses cameras to precisely measure the motion of robot components.

A work will be conducted to create a high-resolution 3-D perception system capable of zooming in on specific structures as they move and deform, allowing for highly accurate force calculations.

A research will be made concerning “micro-teleoperate” robotic manipulators using a remote-control haptic system that provides feedback, allowing the researchers to feel the forces exerted on robotic structures. This way if the force is too high they can back off manipulating the part before it breaks.