Researchers develop floating microrobot

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Researchers at a Canadian university have developed and built a robot that can float and move using magnetic fields. The gripper of the microrobot can be operated using lasers.

The scientists at Waterloo University in Ontario, Canada built the robot, led by teacher Mir Behrad Khamesee, using mems techniques. The microrobot weighs one gram and is about two millimeters in size and consists of two permanent magnets and a gripper. External electromagnets are used to generate magnetic fields that the robot uses to float: the robot’s magnets follow the focal point of the parabolic magnetic fields generated by the electromagnets. By varying the magnetic fields, the robot can be maneuvered to any desired location without being hindered by wires or cables. This control is somewhat similar to moving a magnet above a table by moving a second magnet below the table.

The floating microbot can not only move, but also perform useful tasks. For this purpose, the device is equipped with a gripper that is operated by a laser. The material of the gripper expands due to the heat of the laser, so that the gripper opens. When the laser is turned off, the material cools and the gripper closes. Three other lasers are used to determine the robot’s position in three-dimensional space. The positioning data is then passed on to the computer that controls the magnetic fields. According to Khamesee, the microrobot could be used in dangerous environments where no connection with the outside world is desired. This includes working with toxic substances, but the robots could also be used in clean rooms, such as for the production of chips.

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