World's Smallest Mini-Robot
A robot that "turns on a dime and parks on a nickel" is being developed by
researchers at the Dept. of Energy's Sandia National Laboratory (Albuquerque,
NM; Tel: 505/ 844-0611). At one-quarter cubic inch and weighing less than an
ounce, this device is possibly the smallest autonomous untethered robot ever
created. Powered by three watch batteries, it rides on track wheels and
consists of an 8K ROM processor, temperature sensor, and two motors that drive
the wheels. Additions being considered include a miniature camera, microphone,
communications device, and chemical microsensor.
Ed Heller, one of the project's researchers says, "This could be the robot of
the future. It may eventually be capable of performing difficult tasks that
are done with much larger robots today-such as locating and disabling land
mines or detecting chemical and biological weapons."
He says it could, for example, scramble through pipes or prowl around
buildings looking for chemical plumes or human movement. The robots may be
capable of relaying information to a human operated station and communicating
with each other. They will be able to work together in swarms, like insects.
The miniature robots will be able to go into locations too small for their
larger relatives. The mini-robot has already maneuvered its way through a
field of dimes and nickels and travels at about 20 in. a minute. It can sit
easily on a nickel.
The newest robot miniaturization research supports laboratories directed
research and development (LDRD) work started in Sandia's intelligent systems
sensors and controls department. In 1996, the department unveiled a mini
autonomous robot vehicle (MARV), a one cubic inch robot that contained all the
necessary power, sensors, computers, and controls on board. It was made
primarily from commercial parts using conventional machining techniques.
Over the next several years, the department improved the original MARV. The
bodies of the robots were made of printed circuit boards, and each had an
obstacle detector sensor, radio, temperature sensor, and batteries. At 1.6 by
0.75 by 0.71 in., they were still larger than desired.
Sandia roboticist Ray Byrne, who was involved in the LDRD efforts, says that
about three years ago the Intelligent Systems and Robotics Center teamed with
Sandia's sensor technologies department to further miniaturize the robots.
They sought the department's expertise in building sensors and other devices
on a miniature scale. By trying new electronic packaging techniques, wheel
design, and body materials, the new team shrunk the robots to one-quarter
Commercially available unpackaged electronic parts were one important
innovation. Using electronic components in die form reduced the size of the
robot considerably. The unpackaged parts are assembled onto a simple
multi-chip module on a glass substrate.
A new rapid prototyping technique called stereolithography was used to form
the body of the device. This technique lays down a very thin polymer deposit
that is cured by a laser. The material, which grows as each layer is added, is
light-weight, strong, and can be formed into complex shapes. The robot bodies
have cavities for batteries, electronics embedded glass substrates, axles,
tiny motors, switches, and other parts.
The ultimate size of the robots is limited by the size of the power source-the
three watch batteries. Over the next few years, the team hopes to use smaller
batteries, add either infrared or radio wireless two way communications,
miniature video cameras, and chemical microsensors. Contact: Doug Adkins; Tel:
505/844-0611 or Ed Heller; Tel: 505/844-1798.
--- --- --- --- ---
Useless hypotheses, etc.:
consciousness, phlogiston, philosophy, vitalism, mind, free will, qualia,
analog computing, cultural relativism, GAC, Cyc, Eliza, cryonics, individual
uniqueness, ego, human values, scientific relinquishment, malevolent AI,
We move into a better future in proportion as science displaces superstition.
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