By Elise Garcon
Scientists clearly took inspiration from freshers when creating the RoBeetle, a tiny robot capable of navigating environments that are inaccessible or too dangerous for humans. This development in technology has been a long-term goal for scientists. However, finding ways to keep them powered and moving has been impossible to achieve until now. The RoBeetle is said to be the smallest and lightest full autonomous robot ever created. It weighs less than a gram, and is able to retain this miniscule size by using methanol as its fuel. Methanol holds more energy per unit volume than traditional batteries. The RoBeetle can carry more than its own body weight in fuel.
Alloy wires in the legs of the robot, described as ‘tiny artificial muscles’, contract and relax just like ours do. Platinum powder covers the wires and speeds up methanol combustion, shortening the legs of the bot, which then re-extend after cooling, giving a walking movement.
While power remains one of the main constraints on robots, the RoBeetle represents a significant step towards alternative fuels. While batteries are widely used and convenient, they are known for their poor energy density.
By running on ethanol, the RoBeetle can overcome this problem. It needs no additional power sources, and is able to propel itself up inclines, and across various surfaces such as glass and concrete. However, even at full capacity, the RoBeetle can only last for 2 hours.
The main challenge currently, is managing to continuously power the robot over longer periods. Other downsides are that it can only walk forwards, not backwards, and its speed cannot be controlled. Scientists hope to program it to communicate with the human operator in order overcome these challenges.
If they are successful, the RoBeetle could act as an artificial pollinator, filling the gap in natural pollinators that global warming leaves. Microbots could also be used in search-and-rescue operations after natural disasters.
Image: Science Robotics