In new mass-production technique, robotic insects spring to life

Caroline Perry
EurekAlert

Cambridge, Mass. – February 15, 2012 – A new technique inspired by elegant pop-up books and origami will soon allow clones of robotic insects to be mass-produced by the sheet.

Devised by engineers at Harvard, the ingenious layering and folding process enables the rapid fabrication of not just microrobots, but a broad range of electromechanical devices.

In prototypes, 18 layers of carbon fiber, Kapton (a plastic film), titanium, brass, ceramic, and adhesive sheets have been laminated together in a complex, laser-cut design. The structure incorporates flexible hinges that allow the three-dimensional product—just 2.4 millimeters tall—to assemble in one movement, like a pop-up book.

The entire product is approximately the size of a U.S. quarter, and dozens of these microrobots could be fabricated in parallel on a single sheet.

“This takes what is a craft, an artisanal process, and transforms it for automated mass production,” says Pratheev Sreetharan (A.B. ’06, S.M. ’10), who co-developed the technique with J. Peter Whitney. Both are doctoral candidates at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).

Sreetharan, Whitney, and their colleagues in the Harvard Microrobotics Laboratory at SEAS have been working for years to build bio-inspired, bee-sized robots that can fly and behave autonomously as a colony. Appropriate materials, hardware, control systems, and fabrication techniques did not exist prior to the RoboBees project, so each must be invented, developed, and integrated by a diverse team of researchers.

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In new mass-production technique, robotic insects spring to life

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