Two Stanford University PhD students had built mini bots, or what they call Micro Tugs – little machines that utilize adhesive power, similar to the “setae” of geckos and ants, to pull objects up to 2,000 times their own sizes.
From the university’s Biomimetics and Dextrous Manipulation Lab, the two students managed to build strength powerhouses that could be used on larger machines to carry very heavy items in the future such as rope ladders on emergency situations when buildings are on fire and people inside need to be evacuated or in construction sites, when steel and other heavy construction materials are needed to be hoisted up.
The composition of the Micro Tugs includes battery, a hoist, actuator, wheels, adhesive layer on the tiny robots’ belly and a processor. The adhesive layer is designed not to stick unless the hoist of the robot is pulling a load. When the object has already been pulled by the hoist or winch, the wheels lift and the belly with the adhesive layer is lowered to stick to the object’s surface. Once pulled, the belly hauls up, the wheels comes back down which would allow the robot to move freely again.
One robot that weights 1/3 of an ounce can carry an object weighing 2.2 pounds vertically up . If translated to human strength, that’s similar to a human climbing up a tall building while carrying an elephant.
On a flat surface, another robot only weighing less than half an ounce can drag an object 2,000 times its weight. That would be an adult human pulling a blue whale whale on land.
All these tests are within the set limits of the robots’ actuators, which control the flow of energy in the robots – and not the strength of the adhesive in the robots’ belly. Which, according to the research team, allows them to carry or pull enormous weight – like a human pulling two blue whales.
Next month, these tiny bots will be the subject matter for a presentation at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation to be held in Seattle.