A tiny robot named RoBeetle is now the smallest crawling robot in the world according to the Guinness World Records. The microrobot was developed by Engineer Néstor O. Pérez-Arancibia, an engineer and professor from Washington State University,
RoBeetle, the world’s smallest crawling robot, only weighs 88-milligram or about three grains of rice. This micro insect robot is about the same size as its real counterpart in nature, but don’t be fooled at its size as it can transport loads weighing up to 2.6 times its weight. It can carry an additional 95 milligrams of fuel, enough to keep the robot running for up to two hours. It can also climb up slopes and navigate a variety of textures, such as glass, a foam sleeping pad, and concrete pavement.
Robots are usually powered by batteries and plug sockets. But this is not the case for RoBeetle. This microbot is powered by methanol combustion, meaning it runs on a type of alcohol called methanol. How it works is that heat is released during the combustion process, when a chemical catalyst oxidizes the methanol. The heat causes the nitinol wires in the Robeetle’s functional front legs to shift form. When cooled, the nitinol wires revert to their former shape due to their capacity to display the “shape memory effect.” The Robeetle can roam independently by continuously heating and cooling its nitinol legs.
Methanol and other liquid fuels have a higher energy density per unit volume than batteries, especially on a small scale. This means methanol-powered microbots don’t need an external power source like wires or electromagnetic fields to function. They could theoretically move around more independently than their electrically-propelled cousins while maintaining their small size.
The use of Robeetle at present is limited as it can only run on itself for 2 hours and only move in a forward direction. It cannot also be completely controlled. When a Robeetle starts to walk, it will continue to walk until it runs out of fuel. But researchers believe that there is a lot of potential for this microbot.
The researchers would like to study how it can help in the medical field to assist in complex surgeries where human and medical instruments cannot go further. In another field, Robeetle can also be used as an artificial pollinator which will make the purpose of the creation of this insect-sized robot stay true to its developer’s inspiration which is the nature around us.
RoBeetle developer, Engineer Néstor O. Pérez-Arancibia started working with robots while at Harvard since he was interested in a wide range of things. He likes robotics because it allows him to learn about the natural world and biology while also tackling complex problems.
Pérez-Arancibia has high hopes that his robots could one day be able to solve difficult engineering challenges by drawing inspiration from nature’s clever species such as squid or mice, which can flawlessly squeeze themselves into small spaces like liquid. One day, he would want to be able to create robots that can imitate the movements of the said creatures. In nearly every way, biology, particularly insects, outperforms artificial analogs, but he aims to produce robots that are substantially better at emulating natural systems in the next decade.
Researchers suggested a lot of functions they want to add to RoBeetle but the developers would like to start to figure out how they can refuel the microbot so that it can be continuously powered and they would also like to address the concern on how it can be controlled. They would like to create a program on how the tiny robot can communicate with a human operator
It will be a long development and Pérez-Arancibia hopes that with recognition of the Guinness World Record for RoBeetle, students would come “knocking at his door” as he is looking forward to welcoming new students to his program who enjoy tinkering and have a strong imagination.
Hopefully, these students would someday become a team of student researchers and would be able to create their own kind of robot.