Engineers at Northwestern University have developed a tiny remote controlled crab robot. The device is just half a millimeter wide, and can perform a variety of impressive tasks, including jumping, twisting, bending, turning, and walking. The tiny devices do not require electricity and instead are powered through heating using a laser. The shape-memory alloy that forms the bulk of the robots rapidly changes shape when heated and then returns to its original shape rapidly when the heating ceases, forming the basis for the device’s movements. While in its technological infancy, the method could have eventual applicability in medicine as means to perform minimally invasive surgical tasks within the body.
“Robotics is an exciting field of research, and the development of microscale robots is a fun topic for academic exploration,” said John Rogers, who led the development of the new devices. “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 tumors — all in minimally invasive procedures.”