Stanford's Tiny Robots Use Controllable Adhesive to Perform Impressive Feats of Strength
Nature is a great source of inspiration for designers, engineers and roboticists, from Festo’s ants and gecko gripper to Harvard’s monstrous Kilobot robo-swarm. Recently we came across Stanford University’s bio-inspired “MicroTug” robots which are truly impressive. These miniature machines can pull almost 2,000 times their own body weight. The robot’s designers make use of the van der Waals force, which is the same force that allows ants to carry impossibly-heavy loads on their backs and geckos to climb up vertical glass walls.
The robot’s clever design makes use of controllable adhesive and fast-reacting actuators that can move between a state of free movement and a pulling mode where the adhesive coated rubber wedges stick to the surface underneath. This allows a 0.4 oz (12 g) robot to drag weights up to 46 lbs (21 kg), 1,800 times its own weight. This is the equivalent of an adult human dragging a full-grown blue whale behind them. The real world applications of such a technology would be truly amazing, machines that can move super-heavy weights in factories or construction sites.