A team of scientists from Purdue University has made a stunning discovery. According to a report from Discovery News, researchers have demonstrated a method for energizing and controlling microbots using magnetic force fields. The technique will allow large groups of microbots to carry out complicated tasks working as a team.
According to David Cappelleri, a professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue, “The reason we want independent movement of each robot is so they can do cooperative manipulation tasks. Think of ants. They can independently move, yet all work together to perform tasks such as lifting and moving things. We want to be able to control them individually so we can have some robots here doing one thing, and some robots there doing something else at the same time.”
The best way to send instructions to a group of tiny robots, the research team decided, was to implement a magnetic field system comprised of carefully placed planar coils in the immediate area where the bots would be deployed. Each coil generates a localized magnetic field that can send directions to individual robots, allowing them to act much more specifically than a single more powerful magnetic field would allow.
The magnetic fields don’t just send instructions to the mini robots, either; they give them energy as well. The tiny robots are too small for batteries, leaving magnetic energy the only viable power source left. The microbots in the study were only 2 millimeters in diameter, but researchers believe that the method will work with robots as small as 250 microns, or just 0.25 millimeters as well.
While the technology is still in its infancy, researchers believe it could have widespread applications in the fields of medicine and manufacturing. For example, a swarm of miniature robots could be deployed to sniff out cancer cells within a given sample or to carry out a specific chemical reaction needed to create a certain material.
The study’s findings were published in the journal Micromachines. A press release from Purdue University describing the details of the recent study can be found here.